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Greg Mulholland says law is being "misused" as CPS presses lesser charges to increase chance of conviction...

A government minister has rejected an MP’s call for the offence of causing death by careless driving to be scrapped, warning that such a move could result in less serious charges being brought against motorists who kill. Greg Mulholland, who made the appeal, claims the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has “misused” the law to increase the chance of securing a conviction in cases where the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving would be warranted.

Mr Mulholland, who represents Leeds North West, was speaking during a House of Commons debate on Monday evening on the subject of whether motorists who killed while disqualified from driving should be subject to harsher penalties.

He asked Jeremy Wright, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice, whether he accepted that “the greater ease of getting a potential conviction for death by careless driving is being misused, because there are cases… where people’s driving clearly fell far below the standard and was clearly wilful and grossly dangerous?”

The offence of causing death by careless driving, which carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, was brought in under the former Labour Government in the Road Safety Act 2006.

Previously, the CPS could only charge a motorist who had killed someone with causing death by dangerous driving, punishable by up to 14 years in jail, or with careless driving, which attracts a maximum penalty of a £5,000 fine.

Careless driving, or driving without due care and attention, is defined as “'driving below the standard expected of a reasonable and prudent driver in the circumstances.”

Dangerous driving, on the other hand, requires that the standard of the motorist’s driving “falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.”

Mr Mulholland’s concerns reflect widespread views among road safety campaigners and many road users, including cyclists, that the CPS will often choose to prosecute the lesser offence when the more serious one may be more appropriate.

Yesterday, we reported on the case of a lorry driver found guilty of careless driving in connection with serious injuries sustained by a man using a ‘Boris Bike’ in London last April, although the police had originally arrested him on suspicion of causing serious injury through dangerous driving, an offence introduced in 2012.

While the cyclist involved in that survived, the distinction between the definitions remains the same as in cases where someone has been killed.

Responding to Mr Mulholland, Mr Wright said: “I understand his argument, but he will appreciate that there are, of course, risks.

“The offence [of causing death by dangerous driving] was created because in many cases the choices available to a prosecutor were either to bring a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, or a simple charge of careless driving where a death had resulted.

“If prosecutors felt unable to prove dangerous driving under the definitions we have discussed, they were left with what many would consider the inadequate remedy of a simple charge of careless driving.

“That was the reason why the offence was brought in, and we have to think through very carefully the consequences of removing it from the statute book.”

The issue of the CPS only pursuing cases where it believes there is a reasonable prospect of conviction, as alluded to by the minister, may reflect the fact that it can be difficult for jurors, should the case be held at a Crown Court to apply the legal definitions to the facts as presented to them.

Pressed by Mr Mulholland who outlined his belief that the lesser charge is being misused in the hope of increasing the likelihood of securing a conviction, Mr Wright said: “It is for Crown prosecutors to decide what the appropriate charge should be.

“We would all expect, however, that where they feel they are able to prove that driving fell far below the required standard, dangerous driving would be the appropriate charge; or, indeed, as others have said, in cases of gross negligence manslaughter would be the appropriate charge.

“The difficulty is that where prosecutors believe that in their judgment it is not possible to prove that driving fell far below the required standard, were we to remove this offence from the statute book they would simply be left with the charge of careless driving, which, of course, has considerably lower penalties,” he added.

During the debate, Mr Mulholland also pointed out that Brake has called for all careless driving offences to be abolished and for all cases to be treated under a redefined class of dangerous driving offences.

On its website, the road safety charity says: “Careless driving charges should be scrapped, with cases prosecuted under these charges instead prosecuted under the charges of Dangerous Driving, Causing Death by Dangerous Driving, and Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving, with a full range of penalties handed out up to the maximum (which should be at least five, 14 and 14 years in prison respectively, all with an unlimited fine), according to the seriousness of the offence.

“At the same time, Brake advocates a redefinition of 'dangerous driving' so these charges may be brought when anyone is found to be driving in a way not in accordance with road safety laws or the Highway Code. This definition is far less subjective and would make it clear to drivers that if they do not driving in accordance with legal requirements, they are posing a danger, and therefore may face these serious charges.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

33 comments

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paulmcmillan [96 posts] 2 years ago
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If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

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Initialised [304 posts] 2 years ago
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Can't we replace both offences with "Causing Death or Serious Injury While Driving" with a lifetime ban and 5 years imprisonment if caught breaching the ban.

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AWPeleton [3292 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

Your right, if you do make a concious decision to drive in a certain way and it results in injury or death then its dangerous, whereas a momentary loss of concentration (which virtually everyone has had) results in a death or serious injury then it should stay as careless.

You cant put both together and charge them with one - such as sect 18 and sect 20 assault - both are the same injury level its all about intent and this should be the same in careless and dangerous.

If you do put them both together then the amount of people getting off at court will soar because, as people have said on another post, the vast majority of jurors will drive and will have experienced such minor lapses of concentration without it causing major accidents, death or serious injury.

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Lovelo BIcycles [1 post] 2 years ago
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In 2007, the last year before the introduction of the Causing death by careless driving offence, there were 233 conviction for causing death by dangerous driving, in 2011 there were 114 convictions for that offence.
In 2011 there were also 234 convictions for causing death by careless driving. More people being convicted of a "causing death..." offence but it appears beyond doubt that the people who would in the past have been convicted of the higher offence are now getting away with the lesser one and in the process devaluing lives.

I agree with Brake's approach, get rid of the discrete offences and have one overarching one such as falling to operate a vehicle safely with a broad range of sentencing options.

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oldstrath [602 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

I would delete 'carelessly'. Even here, the comments are full of stuff such as "momentary lapses in concentration" as an excuse for killing people. It seems to me that humans simply aren't able to control tonnes of metal, travelling at high speeds, well enough, all the time, and we should stop kidding ourselves that we are. This, incidentally, is why I stopped driving. I just don't think we can cope.

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Ush [675 posts] 2 years ago
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oldstrath wrote:
paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

I would delete 'carelessly'. Even here, the comments are full of stuff such as "momentary lapses in concentration" as an excuse for killing people. It seems to me that humans simply aren't able to control tonnes of metal, travelling at high speeds, well enough, all the time, and we should stop kidding ourselves that we are. This, incidentally, is why I stopped driving. I just don't think we can cope.

You make a good point. It's implicit in the widespread use of motor vehicles that there will be a high death rate. And that's just the immediate, easy to pin down death and dismemberment rates. When you add in pollution related deaths and climate change it just becomes a mind-bogglingly stupid way for most people to get around.

All this punitive frothing about locking people up or banning them after the fact neglects the collective guilt of society having blundered into this stupid means of transport.

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oozaveared [936 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

There is a real legal distinction between someone who is negligent (not careful enough - careless) and someone who is deliberately driving dangerously.

I get the idea that the cps are using the careless charge with a lower threshold for proof in order to get easier convictions. I am not sure getting rid of the charge will necessarily result in more convictions for dangerous driving. It may result in no charge being brought at all for some drivers. And in the cases brought courts may well decide the standard of proof has not been met. It's a bit all or nothing. It may backfire. What we really want is for the CPS to do their job with a bit more effort.

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AWPeleton [3292 posts] 2 years ago
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oldstrath wrote:
paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

I would delete 'carelessly'. Even here, the comments are full of stuff such as "momentary lapses in concentration" as an excuse for killing people. It seems to me that humans simply aren't able to control tonnes of metal, travelling at high speeds, well enough, all the time, and we should stop kidding ourselves that we are. This, incidentally, is why I stopped driving. I just don't think we can cope.

Its not an excuse its a reason why the accident occurred. But go ahead feel free to say it should be removed and i can guarantee there will be hell of a lot of cases are never prosecuted.

The CPS will always try and plea bargain, as will the defence, because not having a trial is cheap and they will always get a conviction and its as simple as that. In my 20+ years as a cop i have been to Crown Court in excess of 20 times and have never had to give evidence, mainly due to plea bargaining.

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oldstrath [602 posts] 2 years ago
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stumps wrote:
oldstrath wrote:
paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

I would delete 'carelessly'. Even here, the comments are full of stuff such as "momentary lapses in concentration" as an excuse for killing people. It seems to me that humans simply aren't able to control tonnes of metal, travelling at high speeds, well enough, all the time, and we should stop kidding ourselves that we are. This, incidentally, is why I stopped driving. I just don't think we can cope.

Its not an excuse its a reason why the accident occurred. But go ahead feel free to say it should be removed and i can guarantee there will be hell of a lot of cases are never prosecuted.

The CPS will always try and plea bargain, as will the defence, because not having a trial is cheap and they will always get a conviction and its as simple as that. In my 20+ years as a cop i have been to Crown Court in excess of 20 times and have never had to give evidence, mainly due to plea bargaining.

If it is a reason, rather than an excuse, then I think you've just supported my view that driving is , per se, too dangerous to be allowed. Because you are claiming that from time to time people are killed not because someone is excessively aggressive, or reckless, or exceptionally stupid. But merely because they made a simple mistake, a mistake that apparently anyone could make.

And of course, I agree with you. We all make mistakes - total focus all the time is impossible. But a means of transport that involves the risk of killing people purely by the sort of ordinary easy mistake we all make is simply too dangerous to allow.

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AWPeleton [3292 posts] 2 years ago
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oldstrath, i can play devils advocate in saying a cyclist going to quickly on a steep incline can ultimately cause the death of themselves or another so should cycling be banned ?

By this i mean Wouter Weylandt, an absolutely marvellous cyclist who, due to "a mistake" in going to just that little bit to fast lost his life. Now if someone who is a professional at handling a cycle can sadly pass away due to a mistake, where does that leave the mere mortals such as us ?

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FluffyKittenofT... [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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stumps wrote:

oldstrath, i can play devils advocate in saying a cyclist going to quickly on a steep incline can ultimately cause the death of themselves or another so should cycling be banned ?

By this i mean Wouter Weylandt, an absolutely marvellous cyclist who, due to "a mistake" in going to just that little bit to fast lost his life. Now if someone who is a professional at handling a cycle can sadly pass away due to a mistake, where does that leave the mere mortals such as us ?

That's a poor example to choose. A risk of killing yourself is a very different kind of 'danger' to the risk of killing others. And am I to understand this was in the context of high-speed sport? That's not really relevant to every day transport cycling.

(Its not as if there isn't an example of the latter on this site right now that you could have used instead, mind! But the question is one of how frequently such deaths occur, where no-one is considered to be to blame to a criminal degree, and there's a massive difference between cycling and driving in that regard. Indeed I wonder how cycling compares to running or fast walking in that respect?)

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FluffyKittenofT... [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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stumps wrote:
oldstrath wrote:
paulmcmillan wrote:

If you choose to drive a car carelessly, is that not dangerous?

I would delete 'carelessly'. Even here, the comments are full of stuff such as "momentary lapses in concentration" as an excuse for killing people. It seems to me that humans simply aren't able to control tonnes of metal, travelling at high speeds, well enough, all the time, and we should stop kidding ourselves that we are. This, incidentally, is why I stopped driving. I just don't think we can cope.

Its not an excuse its a reason why the accident occurred. But go ahead feel free to say it should be removed and i can guarantee there will be hell of a lot of cases are never prosecuted.

The CPS will always try and plea bargain, as will the defence, because not having a trial is cheap and they will always get a conviction and its as simple as that. In my 20+ years as a cop i have been to Crown Court in excess of 20 times and have never had to give evidence, mainly due to plea bargaining.

I think the reliance on plea-bargaining is regrettable, because it seems to turn what should be a process of establishing truth into a kind of game. It seems to me that it works well for the guilty, especially the habitual criminal who knows the system and how to play it, while working very badly for the innocent, especially those are entirely unfamiliar with playing this particular game.

I suppose with a criminal justice system as with everything else, you get what you pay for.

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paulmcmillan [96 posts] 2 years ago
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I see the reason for the current system, but

from my point of view, if I am killed by a motor vehicle it is of little consolation that they were only driving carelessly rather than dangerously. The end result for me is the same - why should the end result for the person responsible for my death be different?

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FluffyKittenofT... [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

I see the reason for the current system, but

from my point of view, if I am killed by a motor vehicle it is of little consolation that they were only driving carelessly rather than dangerously. The end result for me is the same - why should the end result for the person responsible for my death be different?

I suppose the key point there is the meaing of the word 'responsible'. Seems as if "careless driving" means "only driving as badly as is socially accepted, i.e. what the average driver thinks is normal". While "dangerous driving" means driving even more badly than that.

In the first case the driver is not wholly responsible - rather the responsibility is shared with, and thus diffused across, a larger group or even an entire culture.

I don't actually think this is entirely wrong - if you are only doing what the wider culture tells you is acceptable then it does seem unfair to scapegoat you alone if it all goes wrong on this occassion.

The unfortunate result though is that an entire group gets away with habitually behaving badly towards others.

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AWPeleton [3292 posts] 2 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
stumps wrote:

oldstrath, i can play devils advocate in saying a cyclist going to quickly on a steep incline can ultimately cause the death of themselves or another so should cycling be banned ?

By this i mean Wouter Weylandt, an absolutely marvellous cyclist who, due to "a mistake" in going to just that little bit to fast lost his life. Now if someone who is a professional at handling a cycle can sadly pass away due to a mistake, where does that leave the mere mortals such as us ?

That's a poor example to choose. A risk of killing yourself is a very different kind of 'danger' to the risk of killing others. And am I to understand this was in the context of high-speed sport? That's not really relevant to every day transport cycling.

(Its not as if there isn't an example of the latter on this site right now that you could have used instead, mind! But the question is one of how frequently such deaths occur, where no-one is considered to be to blame to a criminal degree, and there's a massive difference between cycling and driving in that regard. Indeed I wonder how cycling compares to running or fast walking in that respect?)

I know what you mean but what i wanted to get across was the simple mistakes, even by the best at what they are doing, can still lead to fatalities. I could have used the exmple of the cyclist who went down the hill to fast for the bend and hit the young girl on the crossing nearly killing her but i'm not aware if everyone knew that incident.

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paulmcmillan [96 posts] 2 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

I suppose the key point there is the meaing of the word 'responsible'. Seems as if "careless driving" means "only driving as badly as is socially accepted, i.e. what the average driver thinks is normal". While "dangerous driving" means driving even more badly than that.
.

Good point. I guess the very existence of careless driving is equivalent to society saying that occasional lapses of concentration, and the "collateral damage" that this causes is viewed as acceptable. So in other words it is socially acceptable (and even predictable) to kill someone by not paying attention.

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AWPeleton [3292 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

I see the reason for the current system, but

from my point of view, if I am killed by a motor vehicle it is of little consolation that they were only driving carelessly rather than dangerously. The end result for me is the same - why should the end result for the person responsible for my death be different?

For instance to be really extreme here,

a 10yr old pinches a Mars bar worth 50p and a person steals a leather jacket for £200.00 - both are theft but you cant say they are the same for sentencing.

Or someone slaps a bloke in a bar and he gets a cut lip, then someone takes a metal bar to someone and causes broken bones, both are assault but get dealt with differently.

Its the taking into account how the incident happened thats important in making the decision of which offence to charge

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Poor driving standards are difficult to assess, but there's one measure that could at least make a substantial difference to driver behaviour.

If I was "in charge", I'd like to see one day's compulsory unpaid work for each mph above the speed limit, and one day's prison for each mph above the limit if a driver has been caught speeding more than three times in a rolling annual period.

It's all about risk management. We know that walking too close to the edge of a cliff could be fatal, so we don't risk it. If we know we could go to prison for speeding, we wouldn't do it. Such a legislative change would inevitably reduce the incidence of careless or dangerous driving, whilst peeps work out what we're going to do with these hardcore idiots in our burgeoning society.

Rather than waiting for the step ladders, we could easily grab the low hanging fruit.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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stumps wrote:

I could have used the exmple of the cyclist who went down the hill to fast for the bend and hit the young girl on the crossing nearly killing her but i'm not aware if everyone knew that incident.

I actually had in mind the Japanese case. Because someone actually died and I think in at least one of the cases mentioned in that story, unlike the injured child on the crossing, the rider wasn't considered criminally liable.

The catagory I think is relevant would be cases where people are killed or seriously injured and the driver/rider wasn't considered to have been inept to the level of 'dangerous driving'. Essentially the category that covers the general level of danger that is socially accepted. This seems a much larger category when it comes to driving than it is for cycling.

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earth [285 posts] 2 years ago
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If there is intent to drive in a manner that is dangerous and can cause death and a death does occur due to that dangerous driving, then I think the argument is not wether they should be charged with careless or dangerous driving but wether they should be charged with murder or manslaughter.

Put it another way. Is it not possible to be found guilty of murder or manslaughter if one uses a car as the weapon?

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jmaccelari [240 posts] 2 years ago
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Why 'death by dangerous/careless driving' at all? It's absolute nonsense! There is no 'death by dangerous/careless stabbing/shooting/...'. Why should killing a person with a licensed two tonne lump of metal be any different to killing a person with a (licensed) double barrel shotgun? It's either murder or manslaughter.

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jmaccelari [240 posts] 2 years ago
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Oops..Double post. Sorry.. .

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oldstrath [602 posts] 2 years ago
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jmaccelari wrote:

Why 'death by dangerous/careless driving' at all? It's absolute nonsense! There is no 'death by dangerous/careless stabbing/shooting/...'. Why should killing a person with a licensed two tonne lump of metal be any different to killing a person with a (licensed) double barrel shotgun? It's either murder or manslaughter.

I imagine those who want to defend driving would argue that killing someone with a car is usually unintentional, and indeed simply the result of a "momentary lapse" that doesn't reflect on the usual character of the individual.

Personally, I think this is simply a reflection of the contortions inflicted on us by having built a society in whuch cars appear to be necessary. If we regarded owning a private car as something a few slightly outre people did we could have a healthier attitude to killing using one.

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teaboy [311 posts] 2 years ago
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oldstrath wrote:
jmaccelari wrote:

Why 'death by dangerous/careless driving' at all? It's absolute nonsense! There is no 'death by dangerous/careless stabbing/shooting/...'. Why should killing a person with a licensed two tonne lump of metal be any different to killing a person with a (licensed) double barrel shotgun? It's either murder or manslaughter.

I imagine those who want to defend driving would argue that killing someone with a car is usually unintentional, and indeed simply the result of a "momentary lapse" that doesn't reflect on the usual character of the individual.

So, Manslaughter then... If necessary introduce Vehicular Manslaughter to replace Causing death by careless/dangerous driving.

I'm fairly convinced that people don't go out with the intention to kill cyclists and pedestrians, and yet it still happens. If I take a gun out and accidently shoot someone, what charges would be brought?

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oldstrath [602 posts] 2 years ago
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teaboy wrote:
oldstrath wrote:
jmaccelari wrote:

Why 'death by dangerous/careless driving' at all? It's absolute nonsense! There is no 'death by dangerous/careless stabbing/shooting/...'. Why should killing a person with a licensed two tonne lump of metal be any different to killing a person with a (licensed) double barrel shotgun? It's either murder or manslaughter.

I imagine those who want to defend driving would argue that killing someone with a car is usually unintentional, and indeed simply the result of a "momentary lapse" that doesn't reflect on the usual character of the individual.

So, Manslaughter then... If necessary introduce Vehicular Manslaughter to replace Causing death by careless/dangerous driving

I agree, but can't see it happening unless we can rid ourselves of the obsession with cars. And remember that cars impose costs and damage even when not being driven in an overtly stupid fashion.

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matheson [54 posts] 2 years ago
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I'd like to scrap MPs that waste public funds.

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IanW1968 [269 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't have a problem with the "careless" as an offence if that's what best describes the drivers actions.

The question is though why do the CPS keep using that when something more serious clearly better describes the circumstances.

I suspect there is some structure within the CPS that is distorting the actual charges pressed.

Does anyone have any first hand experience of working for or with them? Are staff or departments under pressure to close cases quickly or deliver certain conviction rates?

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kie7077 [874 posts] 2 years ago
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At the end of the day, these laws are like cycle helmets, only of any use when it's too late.

How ironic is it that when a TV advert actually tries to make a difference it got banned!

Texting, talking and in general messing with a phone whilst driving is a killer, there should be no let-offs for someone who is caught doing this, although I can appreciate that checking a phone whilst sitting in a traffic jam should perhaps lead to lesser points on the license.

Roughly a quarter of cyclists killed, are killed because the driver drove too close to the cyclist, and yet when I remonstrate with drivers about driving too close, they are often clueless as to what a safe distance is, the gov't has a duty to deal with this ignorance.

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Sswindells [25 posts] 2 years ago
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I work with them ( police officer ) and sadly the fact is they are under staffed, under funded and over worked ( like everyone else in the public sector ). They are under pressure by the Home Office to reach conviction rates. This means for us they will only take on a case if officially it reaches the criminal conviction standard of "beyond reasonable doubt" ( a very high threshold ). In practice this actually means " no other outcome was possible ". Sometimes no matter how water right a case might be they won't run it because there is a minor flaw, just in case...
They will also want to get as many cases resolved quickly so they can pick up more complex ones and do the work required. This does result in lots of plea bargain in with the defence for a lesser charge. It even relies sometimes on the police forcing the charge and trial ( search for PC Mike Silcock ) and the CPS initially wanted to No Further Action that case. The police just charged in the end and said let a court decide.
Don't e surprised to find that a lot of files are picked up at 8am 2 hours before a trial by the CPS too, although you'd hope they looked at serious cases like this beforehand not always.
There isn't an answer that makes it better sadly, tax increases to pay for more lawyers is out of the question and the criminal justice budget is at capacity. We're stuck with what we have ( although it's probably the best system in the world ).

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sarahfl [2 posts] 2 years ago
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I think that the misuse part should be what is addressed, rather than scrapping the charge altogether. Sure, people care and don't typically set out to hurt people with their car, but they are reckless and kill someone, and this can be proven, then they should pay the price.

 

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