What should the penalty be where death/serious injury arises through dangerous or careless driving? Are current sentencing powers adequate? Does any further offence need to be created to cover any gap in the law?
These are some of the issues under consideration in a new Ministry of Justice consultation lasting from 5th December 2016 to 1st February 2017.
The footage in the recent fatal case involving a distracted lorry driver hitting stationary traffic will live long in the memory for many and for ever for those family members and friends immediately affected.
Death or serious injury can arise across a whole spectrum of offending: from deliberate use of a vehicle as a weapon, to highly reckless driving and to incidents that occur arising out of the most momentary lapse of attention.
How should this whole range of offences be dealt with in terms of appropriate court sentences? It is a highly sensitive and very emotive area where the outcome of an incident can be devastating but where courts also have to take into account the level of culpability of the driver to achieve a just outcome.
The MOJ consultation seeks to put forward proposals in their consultation that “are intended to offer a proportional response to these crimes." It invites responses to the following questions:
- Should there be an increase from 14 years imprisonment to life imprisonment as the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving or for causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink/drugs?
- Should there be the creation of a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving? (The only existing offences are those of causing serious injury by dangerous driving or causing serious injury when disqualified from driving.) Such an offence would be intended to increase the maximum available penalty for careless driving (currently an unlimited fine) to give a power of imprisonment where serious injury occurred. The consultation ponders whether a maximum 2 to 3 year period of imprisonment would be appropriate.
- Should there be a longer minimum period of disqualification for any driving offences causing death and, if so, how long should it be?
- Should there be any other amendments to driving offences relating to death or serious injury?
This consultation addresses offences of a particularly grave nature at the upper end of the seriousness scale - but it also opens the door for potentially far more significant penalties where serious injuries arise out of ‘careless driving’ defined as driving is below the standard of a competent and careful driver as opposed to dangerous driving where the driving is far below the requisite standard.
In this general areas there has been a gradual increase in the maximum penalties imposed and the number of different offences designed to address various types of offending. This consultation paves the way to continue that trend.