Published: 23 November 2012
Report: British Cycling
British Cycling was involved in a recent meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service, to discuss how the charges of ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving are used.
The meeting was organised by RoadPeace, a charity for road death victims, and involved a panel discussion chaired by London Assembly Member, Jenny Jones, and included Dr Sally Cunningham, a leading academic on this area of law, Roger Geffen of the CTC, Amy Aeron-Thomas of RoadPeace, Chris Hunt-Cooke of the Magistrates Association and Lara Orija the Lead for Road Traffic Offences at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The debate focused on the CPS’ role in bringing charges against people, and whether the law and the guidelines are sufficient on ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving offences, which is one of the four key elements of British Cycling’s justice review. The debate broadened out with many people supporting British Cycling’s call for a comprehensive review of the justice system.
Will Jefferies, the brother of Rob Jefferies, a British Cycling employee who was tragically killed in 2011, spoke eloquently about how the current justice system means that it isn’t possible for him to see justice for Rob, which is why he wants to see an overhaul of the justice system so that other families don’t have to suffer in the same way he has and fully supports our call for a review of the justice system.
Richard Lomax, a former prosecutor went on to say that he feels the entire justice system for bad driving offences is a test bed for how the CPS is working and that if it is failing in this area then its indicative of the entire system failing. He went on to say that if people have lost faith in how the justice system works for bad driving offences then they will lose faith in the entire system so this needs changing so that it restores people’s faith in justice.
Amy Aeron-Thomas responded by saying that many of the families that come to RoadPeace have lost total faith in the justice system. There are some that have a good experience of the organisations involved and are supported, but in many cases this is unfortunately not the case.
When considering whether to bring ‘careless’ or ‘dangerous’ charges, Chris Hunt-Cooke said that he felt the terms were being inappropriately used. In law ‘careless’ is driving which falls below that of a careful and competent driver and ‘dangerous’ is driving which falls far below. It is about the quality of the driving but that too often the term ‘careless’ is considered in the usual, common context which is a ‘momentary lapse of attention’ and the outcome from the driving is considered when the common use of the word is applied in this legal context. He felt that terms ‘unsafe’ and ‘very unsafe’ driving should be used instead as it makes it clearer that the charges are about the standard of driving.
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We are calling on the government to undertake a comprehensive review of the justice system when someone is hurt on the road.
There is an Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament which MPs can sign to support our call for the justice review.
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Dr Cunningham then pointed out that the ‘careful and competent’ driver is in fact a legal standard or proxy rather than a real person. But that in many cases the ‘careful and competent’ driver is taken to mean the ‘average’ driver, when often many ‘average’ drivers are not driving ‘carefully and competently’ all the time. She felt that greater clarity in the law of what is ‘careful and competent’ was needed.
When considering the role of the victim or other road users in what charges are brought, Lara Orija was very clear that it is the standard of the driving by the driver which determines the charge, not what other road users are doing. Therefore, whether the cyclist was cycling erratically, or wearing a helmet or not should not be taken into consideration in the charges. This is because the ‘competent and careful’ driver should take reasonable precautions to anticipate and mitigate against other road users, and modify their driving around vulnerable road users. The actions of other road users, however, may be taken into consideration when sentencing.
British Cycling, and other cycling organisations and victims groups believe that there is a downgrading of charges, with people being charged with ‘causing death by careless driving’, which was only ever intended to be used occasionally, rather than being charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’. In 2008, when the charge of ‘causing death by careless driving’ was first introduced, 2538 people were killed on the roads, 715 people were charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ and 6 with ‘causing death by careless driving’. In 2011, the number of people killed on the road was 1901, and 408 people were charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ and 538 people were charged with ‘causing death by careless driving’. The numbers of people being charged with ‘causing death by careless driving’ have risen dramatically, despite the numbers of people killed on the road decreasing, and the numbers of people charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ have dropped in that time as well. This suggests there is confusion over the appropriate charges and ‘causing death by careless driving’ is being used far more than was originally intended.
We need all cyclists and other concerned people to continue to put pressure on the government to undertake the comprehensive review of the justice system, of which the CPS is one part of it. Write to your MP asking them to support the review by signing the Early Day Motion on it. Click here for more information.