A report into the handling of road deaths in six police forces has criticised how officers and the CPS handle cases - but a leading cycling group has said it should have been even stronger.
The report was written by the HM Inspectorates of Constabulary (HMIC) and of the Crown Prosecution Service (HMCPSI) and found that support of victims was lacking in 75 per cent of cases, prosecutors needed more training, CPS decisions were badly kept in internal records and those taking the lead on cases were frequently swapped around - in fact they were only constant in 38 per cent of cases.
The worst part of the report, according to the CTC, was the finding that there were eight 'incorrect' decisions were to prosecute cases where the inspectors felt there was insufficient evidence, including four where pedestrians were killed at night and inspectors felt the driver could not have been expected to see the victim.
CTC’s Campaigns & Policy Director Roger Geffen said: “Today’s report backs up what CTC’s Road Justice campaign has been saying about the need to improve the training of both police and CPS staff involved in road crashes.
“However, the CPS watchdog is repeating the legal system’s persistent failure to recognise that, in law, driving which causes obviously foreseeable danger should be charged as ‘dangerous’ driving, not ignored or dismissed as mere ‘carelessness’.”
The report comes as CTC’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF) prepares to decide whether further action is needed to secure justice for the bereaved family of Michael Mason, the 70-year-old cyclist killed after being hit from behind by a car on Regent Street.
Although the driver admitted at inquest that she could not explain her failure to see Mason when he was directly in front of her, the Police have so far declined even to refer the file to the CPS.
With CDF’s backing, CTC Ambassador Martin Porter QC has written to the Metropolitan Police and the CPS on behalf of Mason’s family, urging them to reconsider. However, CDF has launched a £30,000 'Justice for Michael' funding appeal in anticipation of the need for further legal action, including the possibility of a private prosecution for causing death by dangerous driving.
Since the introduction of a new offence of causing death by careless driving (CDCD), prosecutions and convictions for the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving have nose-dived. By 2011, just 6.5% of road deaths resulted in a driver being convicted for causing death by dangerous driving.
Recently we reported how sentences imposed for death by dangerous driving may become open to challenge under plans being drawn up by government law officers. The Times reports that the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC is currently reviewing the scheme under which people can appeal sentences they perceive to be too lenient.
Currently only a limited number of sentences can be challenged, but a host of other offences tried in magistrates’ courts may be added to the list.
A spokesperson for the law officers said: “The scheme is under review. Lots of new offences have been added over the years because it’s important that the public can challenge exceptionally low sentences.
“We have not yet made any decisions, but the attorney general has said before that he is thinking about whether the extent of the present scheme is right.”
If the attorney general receives a complaint within 28 days, a sentence must be examined. If it is ‘manifestly not sufficiently severe’ it is then referred to the Court of Appeal. Around 400 sentences a year are now the subject of complaints from victims or others with about a quarter of sentences that are referred then increased.
Wright told The Times that the scheme should not operate as a prosecution right of appeal but should be used only in exceptional cases where the judge may have got it wrong.
Earlier this year, the families of John Morland and Kris Jarvis – two cyclists killed as a result of the dangerous driving of Alexander Walter – launched an online petition to increase the sentencing in dangerous driving cases.
Walter had been driving without insurance, at 70mph in a 30mph zone and whilst already disqualified from driving. He was nearly two and a half times over the alcohol limit and was being pursued by police. He had also taken cocaine less than 24 hours prior to the incident and had 67 previous criminal convictions, including a bomb hoax only days after 9/11. After pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, he was sentenced to 10 years and three months imprisonment. Walter appealed to have the sentence shortened, but lost.
In 2013, CTC launched its Road Justice Campaign. The organisation believes that some bad drivers are treated leniently due to what it perceives as occasional failings on the part of police, prosecutors and the courts. The Road Justice Campaign aims to get the justice system to take a more rigorous approach to investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing incidents of bad driving on Britain's roads.