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Driving Consultation

Driving Consultation

The Ministry of Justice’s consultation on whether to increase the current maximum custodial sentences available for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs closed this week.

In the foreword to the consultation last December, justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “While the UK has one of the best road safety records in the world, deaths or serious injuries on the roads cause devastation to victims and their families, for whom the sentence of the court can never adequately reflect the loss of a loved one. The Government is committed to ensuring that deaths or serious injuries continue to fall, and that where they are the result of criminal behaviour, the right tools are available to deliver justice.”

The introduction to the consultation stated: “As a general principle, the criminal law needs to take into account not only the harm caused, but also the level of blame of the offender, and sentences must be a matter for the judge to determine in individual cases, based on the full facts of the case and of the offender before them. The Government is however committed to ensuring the legislative framework that the courts operate within reflects the seriousness of offending and the culpability of the offender. The proposals in this consultation are intended to offer a proportionate response to these crimes.”

The consultation sought views on whether the current maximum penalties available to the courts for the existing offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs should be increased from 14 years’ imprisonment to life. It also asked for views on whether there is a gap in the law relating to careless driving that results in serious injury.

Dangerous drivers who kill are set to face life sentences under plans put forward by ministers. Dangerous drivers causing death by speeding, street racing or while on a mobile phone are among those now facing the same sentences as those charged with manslaughter.

Other proposals included creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of 3 years, and increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing death.

The consultation did not cover offences such as speeding, drink-drive limits, the ‘basic offences’ of careless or dangerous driving, and driving while using a mobile phone. But the consultation paper stated that such behaviours are relevant where they are a factor in the driving that led to a death or serious injury.

The Law Society, in its response, observed that the government’s concern for road traffic accidents victims was “belied somewhat by its proposals to increase the small claims limit which will, in effect, make it much more difficult for victims of traffic injuries to obtain professional legal representation because of the non-recoverability of costs.”

The Society did not think the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased from the current level of 14 years to life, stating that: “It is important for the law to maintain a distinction between driving offences causing death and injury, and other offences against the person and homicide where there is intent.” The suggestion that the maximum penalty should be imposed in all cases of death by dangerous driving was “contrary to the well-established principle of judicial discretion”, it added.

With more than 9,000 responses to its proposals this was one of the biggest the department has received. The ministry will set out its plans “in the coming months.”.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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