Road traffic crime is not treated as real crime
The justice system - and society, in general - is reluctant to hold drivers accountable for the harm they cause.
There are key problems with
- Criminal charges (The law)
- Charging decisions
- Court prosecution
We have a mess of driving offences.
Our multitude of driving offences includes:
- Causing death by dangerous driving
- Causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence
- Causing death by driving whilst disqualified
- Causing death by careless driving
- Causing death by driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified and uninsured
RoadPeace’s first and main campaign for over 15 years was to get death and serious injury mentioned in the criminal charges. We wanted culpable road deaths to be prosecuted as manslaughter—as other wrongful deaths are.
And for serious injury we have
- Causing serious injury by dangerous driving
- Causing serious injury by disqualified driving
The Ministry of Justice consulted in early 2017 on a new charge of Causing serious injury by careless driving but have yet to report on the consultation responses. But there is no mention of serious injury in the drink/drug driving or using a mobile phone whilst driving. Nor is there any mention of death or serious injury in the Fail to stop offence (hit and run).
Key concerns cover
- How decision is made
- Overlap in charging standards of careless and dangerous driving
- Who? The police make the vast majority of charging decisions, including after a crash. The CPS will make the charging decision, only if the police decide to pass the investigation file to them. They are not required to do this, not even in the case of a road death.
- How? The police and CPS use a two part test. A case must pass the evidential test and also the public interest test before it will be prosecuted. There is no transparency with this process. We do not know how often the police or CPS thought the evidence justified a charge, but it was not in the public interest to do so. Nor do we know how often the police (or CPS) thought a criminal offence had been committed but there was not enough chance of achieving a conviction.
- Careless or dangerous? There is huge overlap in the charging standards with careless driving and dangerous driving. We have highlighted this overlap in a poster (link). We have campaigned for a review of these charging standards as they are key to ensuring the correct charge is prosecuted. Dangerous drivers are banned and thus taken off our roads—this rarely happens with careless drivers.
How can you tell if prosecutions are professional?
It is difficult to tell if the CPS are doing a good job. Conviction rates are not useful as they can be misleading. A high conviction rate could mean that only those cases with a very high chance of conviction were being prosecuted. Or it could mean skilled prosecutors were succeeding in convincing juries and/or Magistrates of the justice in conviction.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Crown Prosecution Service (HMcpsi) has evaluated road death prosecution three times. The most recent inspectorate report was published in February 2015. This was a joint inspection with HM Inspectorate Constabulary. The report was very critical of the CPS as they had failed to implement the recommendations of the previous two evaluations.
RoadPeace was consulted in each of the evaluations. See our summaries of the HMcpsi’s evaluations.
What RoadPeace wants
We are campaigning for things to change:
- Greater consistency with other crime, with drivers held accountable for the risks they pose to others.
- Driving offences to mention when someone has been killed or seriously injured. This means new charges with Leaving the Scene.
- Review of charging standards of Careless Driving and Dangerous Driving.
- Transparency with charging decisions, convictions and sentences, by both CPS and the police.
- Training and more resources invested in prosecutors handling fatal and serious injury cases.
- CPS to implement the HMcpsI recommendations.
What RoadPeace is doing to help
- We produce a guide on the Charging Decision which helps bereaved families pursue a criminal charge prosecution. We also write a guide on Going to Court which aims to help families understand what happens at a trial.
- We try to answer queries from families about a charging decision. This often includes concerns over downgrading or possible reasons for delay.
- We campaign for reform of our driving offences. We call for manslaughter to be the default charge for culpable road deaths, revising the charging standards of Careless Driving and Dangerous Driving, as well as key gaps such as (Knowingly) Leaving the Scene of a Fatal/Serious Injury collision. We want criminal charges to recognise when serious injury has been caused.
- We publicise the overlap in the charging standards of Careless Driving and Dangerous Driving in a graphic. And we have tried to raise awareness of the inconsistency in prosecution with publishing data showing how the ratio of Dangerous Driving prosecutions to Careless Driving prosecutions varied widely across the country. In 2012, we held a Traffic Justice panel discussion entitled You say Careless, I say Dangerous, with speakers from the CPS, Magistrates Association, academics and CTC, as well as RoadPeace.
- Re charging decision. We have lobbied for greater transparency with charging decisions. Police should report the reasons for No Further Action as this could be due to driver innocence, lack of evidence, not in public interest, or lack of confidence in getting a jury to convict. We have called for police to pass investigation file to CPS when requested by bereaved family.
- We have called for the CPS and the MoJ to review the borderline cases where Causing Death by Dangerous Driving is downgraded to Causing Death by Careless Driving and where convictions of Causing Death by Careless Driving result in a custodial sentence.
- We have lobbied for HMCPSI to review the CPS prosecution of road deaths. This has been reviewed three times and RoadPeace has been consulted each time.
- We ensure our calls are evidence based. We monitor the MoJ statistics on the prosecutions and convictions of driving offences, especially for causing a death. We publish our annual Causing death by driving briefing which summarises the number of prosecutions, sentences and the sentences given for the main causing death by driving offences.