British Cycling’s campaign to get the government to review how the justice system operates when people are hurt or killed on the road took a step forward today as MPs from all political parties came together to attend an adjournment debate in Westminster Hall. During the debate justice minister Helen Grant MP agreed to meet with British Cycling to discuss justice review for incidents involving cyclists.
The debate, tabled by Manchester MP Tony Lloyd, covered a range of issues concerning victims and the criminal justice system and MPs from across parties ensured that justice in the case of cycling incidents was high on the agenda.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group member said: "If a cyclist is killed by a speeding lorry driver on a mobile phone, that is not an accident but a crime, and we should refer to them as road traffic collisions rather than road traffic accidents. That would help to drive a change in culture."
Wollaston also said: "“There is evidence, because of the higher conviction rates, that offenders are being driven towards lesser charges. That has huge implications for sentencing. In many cases, there is the decision that there is no one to blame at all. That cannot be right.”
Ben Bradshaw MP picked up on the issue of lenient sentencing for drivers in cases involving cyclists, asserting that it is "unacceptable" that people who kill someone's loved one can get away with little more than slap on wrist. "'It brings the whole of our criminal justice system into disrepute," said Bradshaw.
The Labour MP for Exeter went on to say: "If somebody is killed or seriously maimed because of careless or dangerous driving, that is no different from killing or seriously injuring someone through any other kind of negligent or dangerous behaviour.
“We have a good record in Britain, going back over many years, of improving our road safety and reducing death and injury on the roads. That has not happened by accident; it has happened through joined-up Government policies that have boosted safety and changed our whole culture and attitudes towards road crime. I am sure that the Minister, who is a reasonable woman, would not wish to see the recent worrying reversal of that progress as part of her legacy. To avoid that, she needs to ensure that we can restore the confidence of the victims of road crime in the justice system.”
British Cycling launched a campaign to push the government to review the justice system in May. Representatives from the sports governing body attended today’s debate.
Ian Austin, MP, British Cycling member and Co-chair of the All Party Parlimentary Cycling Group said: "I want to use this debate to ask the minister to look at what many people feel are often derisory sentences drivers receive after killing or injuring cyclists. I’ve raised these examples with ministers before and I will continue to do so until action is taken to make the roads safer for cyclists."
Mr Austin cited a number of cases involving cyclists killed or injured on the roads where justice wasn't done before continuing:
“All too often, incidents in which people are seriously injured are downgraded from dangerous driving to careless driving because it is easier to secure a conviction, but a conviction for careless driving usually results in the driver just having to attend a course.”
Ian Austin: “We need a comprehensive review of how the justice system operates when people are hurt or killed on the roads that includes, first, a full analysis of how the police and coroners investigate such cases; secondly, a review of the charging standards and legal guidance used by the CPS; thirdly, a full examination of the offences available to the CPS, particularly causing death by careless driving; and fourthly, a review of the sentencing guidelines to ensure that they adequately reflect the actual or potential consequences of an offence.
Austin then went on to lead the call for justice review: "British Cycling has called on the Ministry of Justice to start a review, but despite repeated letters and 78 MPS signing an EDM in favour, British Cycling has had no response.
"Will the Minister undertake a review of the justice system, to ensure the punishment fits the crime and, more importantly, to deter drivers from engaging in the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists and other road users at risk?"
Shadow Justice Minister Rob Flello MP also vocalised his support for British Cycling's justice review campaign: “British Cycling has done an extremely good job of raising the profile, and Members on both sides of the House have spoken well on that point. I simply urge the Minister to take the opportunity to have a proper root and branch review of the way that not only the criminal justice system but the entire system looks at victims of incidents—quite rightly, not accidents—where cyclists are involved.”
The debate ended with Helen Grant MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Victims responding to the points raised and agreeing to meet with a delegation from British Cycling to discuss justice review, following a final plea from Ben Bradshaw MP, echoing Ian Austin's earlier request.
Following the debate British Cycling’s Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, Martin Gibbs, said:
“'I'm very pleased to see the widespread cross party support, both from MPs and the Shadow Justice Minister for our call for a comprehensive justice review. This is an issue that concerns everyone who cycles, whether they are a world champion or someone who rides their bike to work occasionally.
"People need to feel that they are protected by the law. It is clear to us that the current justice system often delivers results which send the wrong message about the right of people to ride safely on the roads. We need to take action now to make the government take this issue seriously.”
British Cycling’s call for a review of the justice system is supported by a range of bodies including Cycling Weekly, CTC, Sustrans, the London Cycling Campaign, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, The Times, RoadPeace, Brake, Leigh Day & Co solicitors and the Road Danger Reduction Forum.
An Early Day Motion, tabled in July by Julian Huppert MP, has the support of 82 MPs so far, in response to letters sent by British Cycling’s members across the country.
There are a number of cases where it seems that justice hasn’t been served for people hurt on the roads. Rob Jefferies, a British Cycling colleague and volunteer co-ordinator, was killed while cycling by an 18 year old driver who had recently passed his test and had previously been caught speeding. The driver received 200 hours community sentence and an 18 month driving ban.
Rob Jefferies brother, Will Jefferies, attended a meeting with Shadow Justice Minister Rob Flello MP earlier today. Reacting to the debate, he said:
“I’m pleased to hear that the government has agreed to meet British Cycling about their campaign for a review of the justice system. Now we need to see some action on the matter - as we all know that actions speak louder than words.”
Another example is Karl Austin, a club cyclist, who was killed in Derbyshire by a speeding lorry. The driver received a 24 week suspended sentence. And Tom Barratt, an RAF officer and father of two was killed by a delivery van driver who received a 12 month ban and 100 hours community service.
Further information on British Cycling’s call for a justice review can be found on our website here.