Nearly two years after the government promised to conduct a review of motoring offences and penalties, there is uncertainty over whether it will ever take place, with a minister saying only that sentencing in such cases will be considered under a wider consultation of all criminal offences that he said would begin by the end of this year.
The news was conveyed in a letter from Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous, in response to a letter from Lord Berkeley, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), who had originally written to the minister in November in his capacity as Vice Chairman of national cyclists’ charity CTC.
Lord Berkeley, who had not received a reply to that initial letter, wrote again to Mr Selous, the Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire, on 26 January and received a reply dated the following day. The full text of his second letter has been posted to the APPCG’s website.
He had originally asked the minister:
Whether the Government’s review of driving offences and penalties has commenced yet
If so when the public consultation phase will commence
If not, when the review will commence and when will the consultation phase begin and
The reason for the delay in progressing this to date.
In his follow-up letter, Lord Berkeley noted that “Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP announced via a Ministry of Justice (MOJ) release the Government’s intention to undertake a review of all driving offences and penalties as long ago as the 6th May 2014.”
He also cited a parliamentary written question tabled in early January by APPCG patron and Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw who had sought an update from current Justice Secretary Michael Gove, and who was told:
Driving offences can have devastating consequences for victims and their loved ones, which is why tough sentences are available to the courts. It is our intention to consult on sentencing proposals, including driving, before the end of the year.
Lord Berkeley said:
I am therefore left unclear whether:
This means that the proposed review of motoring offences and penalties has now become a review of criminal sentencing generally
If the remit of the review has changed, whether it is just sentencing in serious driving offences (however defined), or those where someone has killed someone whilst in control of a vehicle, which are being reviewed
Whether the timescale now involves a consultation hopefully beginning before the end of the year, or whether this has now been pushed back to the next Queen’s Speech.
I trust that you appreciate my frustration, and indeed disappointment, with this unsatisfactory state of affairs. I would be grateful if you could now expeditiously answer the questions repeated at the beginning of this letter, with reference to a timescale, and including clarification of the remit of the review given recent press reports.
In his reply, in which certain words were underlined by hand for emphasis, Mr Selous told him:
A review of driving offences has been ongoing since the summer of 2014 and, as I hope you will understand, the Secretary of State and I wanted to assess how best to take forward this work to make sure we have a consistent and proportionate legal framework to deal with bad driving.
It is also important that driving offences are considered as part of the wider sentencing framework. Our intention is to commence a consultation about sentencing reforms before the end of the year and I expect driving offences to form part of this consultation.
As I hope you will appreciate, I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of this work by taking a specific view now on road offences in isolation.
Both the former Coalition Government and, following last year's general election, the current Conservative administration, have promised that a review of driving offences, including sentencing, is being, or will be, carried out.
It’s now more than three years since representatives of British Cycling, CTC and RoadPeace met with former Justice Minister Helen Grant in December 2012 to discuss a potential review of the criminal justice system in cases where a cyclist is the victim – a meeting British Cycling described as a “significant step forward.”
In December 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron, responding to a question in the House of Commons from Chris Skidmore, Tory MP for Kingswood, said the government was looking at sentencing reform in such cases.
Two of Mr Skidmore’s constituents, Ross and Clare Simons, had been killed in January of that year by motorist Nicholas Lovell, who was sentenced to 10 years and six months imprisonment for causing their deaths by dangerous driving.
Lovell had been banned from driving on 11 occasions, and had four previous convictions for dangerous driving.
Mr Cameron told Mr Skidmore: “The Government have introduced a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, so we are looking at this whole area.
“I can also tell him that the Justice Secretary has asked the Sentencing Council to review the sentencing guidelines for serious driving offences, and we should look at this specific case in the light of that.”
It was understood at the time that the review would take place during 2014, but that did not happen.
In September last year, Mr Selous told a Commons debate that a review of sentencing was under way and that he hoped it would move to a public consultation phrase “soon.”
The debate had been tabled by Reading West Conservative MP, Alok Sharma, following the death of two of his constituents, John Morland and Kris Jarvis, killed as a result of the dangerous driving of Alexander Walter in 2014.
Their fiancées, Tracey Fidler and Hayley Lindsay, had gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for a change so that a dangerous driver receives a maximum sentence of 14 years for each person they kill, with the sentences to be served consecutively, not concurrently.
In response to Mr Selous’s assurances that the issue was being reviewed, Mr Sharma said: ““I am delighted to hear from the Minister that there will be a review outcome soon; I hope that that means before the end of this calendar year.”
Two months on from the end of 2015, he – and others pushing for reform of the law – are still in the dark over when any review may take place.
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.