Justice Minister Helen Grant has confirmed at today’s Westminster Hall adjournment debate on victims and the criminal justice system that she will meet with a delegation from British Cycling to discuss the prospect of a review of sentencing in criminal cases where cyclists are the victims.
Ms Grant was speaking at the end of the debate, which had been tabled by Tony Lloyd, Labour MP for Manchester Central, whose constituency includes British Cycling’s headquarters.
While the debate was not purely focused on cases where cyclists are the victims, the presence of a number of MPs who have campaigned on cycle safety issues and signed an Early Day Motion on the issue of sentencing of drivers found guilty in cases involving bike riders meant that it was one of the key areas discussed today.
As comments to stories published here on road.cc regularly attest, the perception of lenient sentencing in cases where cyclists have been killed or injured is an issue that concerns many cyclists in Britain.
Although criticism is often directed at judges or magistrates, and sometimes justifiably so, in most cases they are simply following the sentencing guidelines applying to the offences the motorist has been convicted of – and responsibility for reforming those lies with the legislature.
Custodial sentences are the exception, typically applied only in cases where there are aggravating factors such as driving without insurance, drink-driving or failure to stop, and it does appear that crimes against property, such as theft, are dealt with more harshly than those against the person, at least where the victim is a cyclist.
The Early Day Motion regarding driver sentencing was tabled by Dr Julian Huppert, who together with Ian Austin acts as co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG).
Mr Austin, who is a member of British Cycling, was among those who spoke this afternoon.
"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,” he said.
“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.”
After giving some examples of cases where he believed drivers had received lenient sentences, Mr Austin continued: "We need a comprehensive review of how the justice system operates when people are hurt or killed on the roads, to reflect the harm the victim suffers.
"British Cycling has called on the Minister 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?"
Another APPCG member, Dr Sarah Wollaston, told the debate: "We all refer to accidents, but if someone is killed by a speeding lorry driven by someone on their phone that's not an accident, it’s a crime."
Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, compared the sentences given to motorists in cases involving cyclists to a slap on the wrist, adding, “It brings the whole of our criminal justice system into disrepute."
In May this year, British Cycling launched its campaign urging the government to undertake a review of sentencing in cases involving cyclists, and after today’s debate, its director of policy and legal affairs, Martin Gibbs, commented:
“'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 campaign is backed by a variety of organisations including CTC, Sustrans, the London Cycling Campaign, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the APPCG, RoadPeace, Brake, Leigh Day & Co solicitors and the Road Danger Reduction Forum.