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Criminal Driving (Justice for Victims)

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 12 January 2016

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision to strengthen penalties related to serious criminal driving offences that lead to serious injury or death; to redefine such offences and amend bail conditions for those charged with them; to enhance the standards of investigation, both by the police and in the Courts, into such offences; to improve the treatment of victims of such offences and their families within the justice system; and for connected purposes.

In 2014-15, 389 people were killed in England and Wales alone due to dangerous driving. In too many of those cases—and in even more in which lesser charges have been brought—victims of those serious crimes and their families have been badly let down. We therefore need a number of changes to ensure that proper justice can be delivered in the future.

I was pleased to meet the Justice Secretary yesterday, along with 22 other colleagues. I also thank the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), for his personal interest in this matter. However, my colleagues and I were somewhat surprised and disappointed to be told that there is to be a further consultation which will not produce a document until later this year, given that the Minister had suggested in a previous answer that the consultation would be completed by spring 2015. The message today is to encourage them to continue to work with us to ensure that we get comprehensive legislation by 2017 at the latest.

I am today speaking on behalf of many families across the country. I have had two awful cases in my constituency: that of 16-year-old Jamie Still, who was killed by a reckless criminal driver on new year’s eve in 2010, and that of David and Dorothy Metcalf from Cookridge, who were killed in January 2012. I dedicate this Bill to the memories of Jamie, David and Dorothy, and all who have lost their lives as a result of these serious crimes. It is 18 years ago today that Livia Galli-Atkinson was killed in Enfield, and I wish to pay tribute to the tireless campaigning by her parents, George and Giulietta, as well as by Karen and Rebecca Strong, and Clive Metcalf and his family.

I also wish briefly to mention a number of hon. Members and cases that they have been involved in. Livia’s family have been supported by the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). In the awful case of what happened to Sean Morley, support has been given by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and his predecessor. The case of John Morland and Kris Jarvis has been supported by the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). The case of Ross and Clare Simons has been supported by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). The case of Jamie Butcher has been supported by the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay). The case of Joseph Brown-Lartey has been supported by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and Manchester’s Key 103 radio station. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) has supported the family of Alex Jeffery. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) has supported the family of Evey Staley. There have been many other cases, including that of the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), whose own father was killed by a careless driver in 1991. I pay tribute to all the families who are campaigning tirelessly to try to get justice, and we will support them here until we get a change in the system.

The changes being proposed today come from a meeting of those families and fellow Members back in December 2014 and the manifesto we produced as a result, which has been backed by Brake, the road safety charity—I pay tribute to its amazing work. Our manifesto “Better Justice for Victims of Criminal Driving and Their Families” suggested a number of changes, which I will briefly list. First, the distinction between “careless” and “dangerous” driving is false and unhelpful, often coming down to the slight and subjective difference between someone’s driving falling below or well below what is expected of a careful and competent driver. The problem is that in too many cases people are simply given the lesser charge of causing death or injury by careless driving rather than by dangerous driving because it is easier for prosecutors to seek a conviction. The difference in penalties between these charges is huge: it is a maximum of a five years for causing death by careless driving, compared with up to 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving.

The simple reality is that “careless” is an inappropriate and offensive term to use for criminally bad driving, particularly where it has resulted in horrendous suffering. Even driving that falls only slightly below the standards—a momentary lapse of concentration—may be careless, but it is still dangerous. Careless driving, a charge that was opposed by Brake in the first place, has institutionalised dishonesty in our justice system, and that needs to be rectified. The use of the term “careless” makes a value judgment about the intention of the perpetrator—it is not factual. Calling driving that falls below any standard “dangerous” is factual, because such driving is dangerous. The Bill is not calling for us to get rid of a lesser sentence only for a higher one; it is calling for us to scrap both charges for a system where all dangerous driving is regarded as a category of offence that can have the minimum or the maximum sentence. That would give judges the discretion; at the moment, their hands are tied once a lesser charge has been brought to the courts, and families are being failed up and down the country.

We also need to examine sentencing and the fact that too few high sentences are given out. Last year, the Government rightly introduced a new offence of causing serious injury while dangerous driving—in the past, that had been missed out—but this new charge should carry a maximum penalty of 14 years. The cost of care as well as the devastation for people who are seriously injured and can never work again, and in some cases can never speak or operate normally again, needs to be taken just as seriously as causing death by dangerous driving.

Drivers who kill while under the influence of drugs or drink can face up to 14 years in jail. However, there is a perversity, which is that if the driver flees a scene to sober up, that crime can be impossible to prove, leaving only a hit-and-run offence. That has the absurdity of incentivising drink and drug drivers to flee the scene and obstruct justice. Hit-and-run drivers should face the same maximum penalties as other drivers who kill and seriously injure, with an assumption that if they flee the scene they must have a reason to do so, which suggests guilt.

We also need to look at the automatic suspension of a driving licence—or, at the very least, a presumption of suspension of a driving licence—as a condition of bail in cases of dangerous and careless drivers who seriously injure or kill. In the case of Jamie Still, the perpetrator of that crime was driving for nine months in the very town in which he killed the 16-year-old. What must it have felt like for the family to see him driving along the same road on which Jamie was killed? That is happening in too many cases.

In cases where charges of criminal driving are brought, the victims must be treated by all parts of the judicial system as victims of crime. Currently, that is not the case, and they are often not given the same support as victims of other crimes, even though the devastation is exactly the same as that of any case of manslaughter.

More work needs to be done in a number of areas. I understand that this can be complicated, and I ask the Minister to work with his former colleagues in the Department for Transport to improve the system. For example, we need to have more appropriate investigation of collisions, better guidance and better advice in terms of releasing evidence to victims’ families. That has not happened adequately in a number of cases that I have mentioned. Victims and their families are not always given access to all the evidence and end up having to trust the Crown Prosecution Service to do its job properly, but I am afraid that too many cases show that they cannot always do so.

The Department for Transport must, in all cases, stop describing as “accidents” incidents of criminal driving where someone has been killed or seriously injured. The CPS and traffic police already do not use the word “accident” to refer to criminal driving offences, but the Department for Transport continues to do so. That is yet another way of exacerbating the suffering of victims and their families. There is a sense that somehow these are not real or serious crimes, despite the devastation that they have caused.

We need changes throughout the system—from investigations through to prosecutions, sentencing and to the very charges themselves—to give justice to families who suffer from these awful crimes, and to deter people from behaving so recklessly behind the wheel of a vehicle. I welcome the attention of the Secretary of State. I will work with him and his Department on this matter. If they wish to support this Bill, we can talk about its content. In the end, we must see, by next year, a change across the board so that we can at last deliver justice for victims and their families.

Question put and agreed to.


That Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Ian C. Lucas, Jason McCartney, Susan Elan Jones, Liz Mclnnes, Heidi Allen, Hywel Williams, Mr Andrew Turner, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Dr Sarah Wollaston and Sammy Wilson present the Bill.

Greg Mulholland accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 March, and to be printed (Bill 117).