Longer prison sentences for the worst welcomed but more reform is needed

Finally, the government is to consult on driving offences. Over 4000 have been killed on our roads in the 31 months since the government announced a full review of driving offences on 4 May 2014.

The good

According to the press release–and only the press release–with the consultation launched tomorrow, tougher sentences are coming—at least in theory. The worst of killer drivers will face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Thus they will be sentenced as if they were convicted of manslaughter.

And longer sentences were overdue for the multiple and repeat offenders whose criminality shocked not just the families but also the public, press and MPs.

We do welcome the possibility of much longer sentences. This will help allay the concerns over early guilty pleas, early release from prison, and multiple deaths being sentenced concurrently.

 
The bad

But reform should not stop with tougher sentences for the worst few

The proposals –or at least those in the press release–will affect very few offenders. In 2015, only 24 drivers were given more than 5 years prison sentence, with just two drivers sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Drivers to be sentenced as if manslaughter but the bereaved remain treated as second class victims

In 2015, 321 drivers were convicted of causing a death. The government could have proposed all culpable road deaths to be prosecuted as manslaughter. That would have allowed the tougher sentences and also benefited all families bereaved by law breaking drivers, most of whom involving cases where drivers were convicted of Causing Death by Careless Driving. Families bereaved by law breaking drivers deserve the same support and rights as do families bereaved by murder and manslaughter.

 
Custody and careless driving—risk of undercharging

And the government is proposing a Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving charge with a maximum custodial sentence of 3 years. RoadPeace has argued that if jail is justified, then the charge should be dangerous driving, not careless driving.

We believe that the 5 year maximum custodial sentence for Causing Death by Careless Driving resulted in undercharging of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving. Why would the CPS press for the tougher charge when four in five drivers convicted of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving result in a custodial sentence of five years or less?

 
We await the consultation launch tomorrow. And can only hope that it is not the missed opportunity implied by the press release.

Justice and the World Day of Remembrance

Today is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The theme this year is “Vital post-crash actions: Medical Care, Investigation, Justice. To commemorate it, WHO has just published a new guide on Post-Crash Response:  Supporting those affected by road traffic crashes. This guide focuses on the emergency care and rehabilitation of road crash victims.

As the national charity for road crash victims, our members –both bereaved and injured know the importance of justice to their souls and sanity. Read Viv’s story below for an example of the lasting effects of injustice.

‘Justice for victims – A contradiction in reality ‘

My beloved brother was a kind, compassionate, gentle, honest man of integrity, and with my younger brother simply the best brothers and friends any sister could hope to have. He was simply driving home along a normal ‘A’ road when just after 5pm on the 18th January 2010 his car was crushed and his life was horrifically taken from him, and us. He had driven thousands of miles in this country and abroad as part of his job. He was always mindful of other car users and safety was always uppermost in his thoughts.

He was killed six  years ago in a head on collision when the driver of the other car having crossed onto the nearside verge, then changed direction and crossed over onto the opposite side of the road and into the path of my brother. His defence was one of ‘insanity’. He was found not guilty and given an absolute discharge with no driving restrictions. I have campaigned ever since for the right to be heard and for the case to be re-examined. I have written scores of letters and  emails and despite being told by ‘experts’ in  legal, academic  and medical fields that they agree with me,  we have no rights. I quote from a small selection; “I agree with you that this case was handled disastrously –

You have come up with strong confirmatory evidence that the outcome was wrong “.

“As a lawyer, I do not see what more you could possibly have done, or where you can go (other than by forming a political pressure group)   You have no right of appeal, and you have no standing to compel the prosecution.  The reason you have no appeal is that you were not a party to the proceedings.  Only a party can appeal”. 

My story is one of the human right to representation, to be heard and the right of appeal. No different, no more no less than the rights of those who are prosecuted.  Bereaved relatives of those horrifically killed on the roads have no representation as does the defendant when it comes to the justice system that is there we are told to represent justice.

We are told that the prosecuting barrister is there not to represent us but the CPS, and therefore we have no say when it comes to the rights or wrongs of prosecution decisions irrespective of whether guidelines in place do not support those decisions, which are based on the likelihood of a successful prosecution.

We are told that despite having credible evidence based information that disputes the claims of the defence we have no right to be heard, but are at the mercy of a system where the CPS chooses whether or not to fund expert witnesses to challenge or discredit ‘expert’ evidence presented. This  in turn in the absence of a robust prosecution using expert evidence offers the jury a biased representation of the facts, and people would say as they have that it would not be difficult to surmise the resulting verdict.

If as the dictionary describes ‘jury’, as a ” a number of men/women selected according to law and sworn to declare the truth on the evidence”, how is this possible if the prosecution chooses not to fund expert evidence?

Does this represent a fair and just society, is this justice?

What is justice? The dictionary describes it as;”quality of being just”, “impartiality”, “fairness” and which of those words describes the rights of the victims.    If in turn the defendant is found not guilty the victims are allowed nothing with regards appeal irrespective of the facts.

Is this Justice?

Road Peace as a charity has kindly supported me by giving the forum under ‘member’s campaigns’ to represent our story and campaign – see ‘Justice for Stephen’.  

But where do we go from here? Apart from kind words and sympathies from lawyers and many other people that I have contacted no one is prepared to help us further by bringing the case to the attention of the masses. Only perhaps with the support of others, that allows not only for the instigation of an independent review of the facts but in time the right of representation, the right to be heard and the right of appeal for every victim. At present we are as May Hamilton so rightly said, the forgotten victims of road crashes.Why else would we have no rights? They say without justice there is no peace. Let this end now.

 

The Forgotten Victims

Guest blog by RoadPeace member May Hamilton, bereaved after her husband was killed while cycling when a driver opened their car door in his path.

It is a matter of shame that, in our justice system, there are always victims of road traffic collisions whose fate is overlooked.  I would like to concentrate on one group of those, namely, the victims who are killed or seriously injured in car dooring incidents.

My Husband, Robert, was one such. On 23rd January 2014 he was riding his small shopper bike down a quiet residential street in Southport when Joanne Jackson opened the door of her Toyota Avensis as he was passing. He was hit on his left side by the outer part of the door and, in the words of the only independent witness, was sent “flying through the air”. He landed on his head and suffered traumatic injuries from which he died the same day.

Robert was 76 years old, and a very experienced cyclist who had ridden thousands of miles both in this country and on the continent. He had taken part in several charity rides for Marie Curie Cancer Care over the past few years including a 500 mile ride from Berlin to Warsaw. He also took part in charity rides to support the local Hospice. Only the previous summer he had ridden hundreds of miles in France with the French Cycling Federation, something he did annually.  His favourite means of transport around home was either his shopper or his road bike and he cycled virtually every day. He was no novice and knew his roadcraft . He was exceptionally fit and healthy for his age and expected to live at least another ten years.

Instead his life was cut short through the carelessness of a woman, who, when she appeared in the Magistrates. Court on a minor charge, and later at the inquest, showed not a shred of remorse, was thoroughly offensive  and arrogantly maintained that there was nothing she could or should have done differently.

She claimed to have checked her mirrors, looked over her shoulder, opened the door a fraction and very carefully before opening it fully. CCTV footage belied this and her assertion that she had not hit Robert was contradicted by the independent witness and by the inquest finding. The fact that she had hit Robert with the outer flat part of the door could only have meant that he was directly alongside her when she opened the door. If she had taken the trouble to glance to the side she would have seen him. Instead she tried to make out that she had done all the right things and did not know where he came from.

The Police carried out a thorough investigation but the stumbling block was the CPS with whom I had a very acrimonious battle. They refused to charge the woman with gross negligence manslaughter  saying there was “insufficient evidence”.

Because the car was not moving at the time, none of the road traffic offences applied. She was eventually charged under the Road Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations with opening a car door in such a way as to endanger someone. For killing my Husband she was fined just £200 with costs and received a six month driving ban.

There is only one case I know of where someone has been charged with manslaughter in similar circumstances. That is the case of Kennan Aydogdu who flung open the door of his taxi, which had blackened out windows, and hit Sam Harding into the path of a bus. Sam was killed instantly. Unbelievably a London jury acquitted Aydogdu even though there were independent witnesses.

The latest statistics I have found on dooring incidents date from 2013 when there were nearly 600 reports. Fortunately, most of the time, injuries are not serious, but there are times when they can be very serious, and, as in Robert and Sam’s cases, fatal.

Because these fatalities are rare and are not caused by moving vehicles they do not get the publicity that goes with dangerous or careless driving cases, but the impact on the families is just as devastating.

This is my horrific experience of one category of offences, but I am sure there are many other types of road crashes where the fate of the victim is sidelined. An insultingly trivial and hurtful charge, or none at all, may be brought against the perpetrator., or a pitifully inadequate penalty, if any, imposed, in what is a travesty of justice.

I was aghast to find out from RoadPeace that there are cases where a driver can be prosecuted for careless or drunk driving but not for causing the resulting death. These offences are crimes and must be treated as such.

I am glad that the MoJ is to finally review driving offences but it should be wider than the most serious offences.  There needs to be a wider consideration of charges and penalties, especially where a death has occurred. For cases like Robert’s, there desperately needs to be a change in the law to allow for a charge of causing death or serious injury through the instrument of a motor vehicle, whether moving or not, with a penalty equivalent to that of a serious driving offence.

It will take a very long time to bring about changes, but in the meantime I would urge victims and their families not to forget the possibility of taking a civil action for negligence against the perpetrator where the criminal law has failed to act satisfactorily.  It is only when insurance companies start to receive an influx of claims and drivers are hit in their pockets by increased insurance premiums, that things may start to change.

 

Fraud v. Whiplash

For the moment George Osborne’s reforms for whiplash injuries have been set aside by the government; however, the discussion around potential legislative changes and the commitment to reduction of the number and costs of whiplash claims remains on the Ministry of Justice’s agenda.  Meanwhile, the debate between insurance companies and solicitors remain – is the issue actually fraudulent claims?  What about the rights of the injured victims?

The proposed reform removed the right to general damages (this is a head of damage referred to as a non-economic damage and provides compensation for injuries such as pain and suffering and emotional distress) for minor soft tissue claims and transferred any personal injury claims with a value of up to £5,000 in general damages to the small claims court.   The reasons behind this reform can be summarised as the nationwide requirement for the reduction in both fraudulent claims and motor insurance premiums.

If the issue truly is fraud, let’s take a brief look at the statistics surrounding the data that is available. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) notes that the fraudulent statistics are both inconsistent and incorrectly assessed.  When referring to the total fraud bill in 2015, the Insurance Fraud Task Force includes ‘detected’ fraud in their total of £1.3 million.  Compared with the statistics of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in 2012 that note only 7% of motor claims were fraudulent.  APIL argues that when separating fraudulent claims and motor vehicle claims, not only is there a clear representation of lower proven fraud, but also that ‘detected’ fraud should be defined as what it is: unproven fraud.

In their news release dated October 13, 2016 ABI does not mention the issue of fraud and discusses at length the requirement for this reform to “tackle the excess of the compensation culture” and to save billions (£4 billion over the court of Parliament) in premiums.

APIL discusses the purpose of general damages is to compensate for the most ‘devastating aspect of any car crash’; the personal injury.  The damage to your car or the car itself can be replaced, whereas personal injury and the loss of enjoyment of life, no matter the size, leaves as lasting effect of the daily life of the victim.

This reform affects the victim on many levels.  From the issues of the compensation being a right for every injured individual, access to justice and the Rule of Law, to lack of representation in the courts the bottom line is that this reform could leave the already vulnerable person at risk.

We have attached various articles for your reference.  While the reform has been set aside, the issues are still relevant and as suggested in the law gazette, maybe this is the time for an independent look at the information and statistics and for the solicitors and insurers to come together to address fraudulent activities and to ensure the rights of victims remain enshrined in today’s common law.

http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/analysis/comment-and-opinion/truss-drops-osbornes-whiplash-baby/5058290.fullarticle

http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/analysis/comment-and-opinion/heres-how-id-tackle-the-whiplash-culture/5058083.article

https://www.abi.org.uk/News/News-releases/2016/10/Ministry-of-Justice-delays-to-whiplash-reform-cost-motorists-nearly-3m-a-day

https://www.apil.org.uk/files/campaigns/government-proposals-to-reform-low-value-personal-injury-claims.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Why not manslaughter?

For over two decades, RoadPeace has campaigned for manslaughter to apply to all culpable road deaths.  We have argued, that at a minimum—even by CPS’s own standards, the charge of manslaughter  should apply to deaths caused by racing or competitive driving, callous behaviour and driving grossly over the speed limits.

Today on BBC Radio 4 two bereaved family members, who have lost loved ones due to these exact actions, discussed their thoughts on the justice system, Death by Dangerous Driving, Manslaughter and the changes they hope to see in the system that failed them.

On August 12, 2015 Darrell Martin lost his brother Lee Martin.  At the time of his death, Lee was participating in an organised cycling event when he was struck and killed by Christopher Gard; he was texting while driving.   Six weeks before striking and killing Martin, Gard had been convicted of using his phone whilst driving; this was his 8th conviction for the same actions and negligent behaviour.

On July 13, 2015 Major Richard Gilbey lost his 25 year old son, James Gilbey.  James was crossing the road when he was struck and killed by two men who were racing through the streets at speeds in excess of 75mph.  After killing James, Majid Malik and Kaiz Mahmood left the scene to dispose of any evidence linking them to his death.

Both of these tragic stories demonstrate the need for change in order to reduce the loss of lives that occur unnecessarily on the streets of England every day.

At RoadPeace we endeavour to reduce deaths and ongoing trauma that both of these families have incurred.  Our deepest condolences to both the Martin and Gilbey families.

You can listen to the interview here.

Global Road Safety Decade –half over but still no justice

Today marks the halfway point of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety.  Launched on 11 May 2011, the UN Global Road Safety Plan aimed to first stabilise the rise in road deaths (1.3 million deaths in 2011), before reducing the toll.

When first discussed in 2009, this plan had four pillars – Road Safety Management, Safer Roads, Safer Road Users and Safer Vehicles – that sought to avoid pain, death and suffering and a fifth – on the post crash care – that sought to alleviate them. The fifth pillar was, however, narrowly conceived and only covered medical treatment.

What was missing was justice. RoadPeace and FEVR (European Federation of Road Traffic Victim Associations) were quick to call for change. WHO renamed Pillar 5 to Post Crash Response, expanding its scope to include the promotion of civil compensation, criminal justice, support for victims and crash investigation. Specifically, Post Crash Response Pillar Activity 5 was to: Encourage a thorough investigation into the crash and the application of an effective legal response to road deaths and injuries and therefore encourage fair settlements and justice for the bereaved and injured.

But five years on and over six million road deaths later, we see virtually no progress.

No Justice–not yet

Under Pillar 3 Safer Road Users, the WHO, with assistance from the Bloomberg Foundation, has invested in traffic law enforcement.  It has compared national efforts with speeding, drink and drug driving, and motorcycle helmet use and produced a road safety manual on road safety legislation. But, under Pillar 5, there has been no comparable review on how criminal charges are applied after a road death or serious injury.

More needed

RoadPeace and FEVR continue to lobby for justice. At WHO’s international road safety conference in November 2016, we organised the (only) session on Justice  and RoadPeace produced the briefing on Justice and the Post Crash Response in the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

But still no action. At the recent UN Road Safety meeting in New York in April, another plea was made for WHO to deliver the justice related activities. And since then, RoadPeace has been asked to provide WHO’s Pillar 5 Post Crash Response Working Group with suggestions on what this work should involve.

But much more should be happening. We should not be half way through the Decade of Action before WHO begins thinking about how to deliver their justice commitments.

Crashes are not just predictable and preventable, they are often criminal. Failure to deal respond appropriately compounds the suffering of victims and allows the perpetuation of inequity on our roads.

Hence the need for a proper response by the justice system. And this is not just with helping reduce road deaths and serious injuries, as prioritised by Vision Zero and Safer System approaches. Intimidation from motor vehicles must also be tackled if more people are to walk and cycle, as needed and encouraged in every country in the world.

Peace not War on the Roads

Also on this day, but 14 years ago, the BMJ published War on the Roads. It noted how war was often waged on the weak by the powerful, and with road crashes, many of the victims were pedestrians and cyclists. Most would never own a car.

Since then, road traffic injury has been recognised as a public health epidemic with WHO coordinating the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. But it has failed to even count the number of deaths caused by criminal conduct–perhaps a holdover of the “unavoidable accident” mentality?

Victims and vulnerable road users deserve better. They deserve justice.

 

 

Legacy and lessons from Hillsborough

As a victims’ charity founded by the bereaved, RoadPeace is more familiar with loss and struggle than celebration. But the Hillsborough inquest verdict last week gave us reason to hope as it was a reminder that justice is possible, even if it does require over a quarter of a century of struggle.

And there was much that our members could empathise with. More families bereaved by a road death end up at the coroners’ court than the criminal court. Coroners continue to play a decisive role in all road deaths as they decide when the body of the deceased can be released and this varies too widely due to second post mortems.

Pauline Fielding, RoadPeace North West Local Group co-ordinator,said

“As a fellow Liverpudlian and a mother still looking for truth and justice following my son’s death in a road crash 22 years ago, I am encouraged by the achievements of the Hillsborough families. Let’s hope that their campaign will be seen by history as a turning point in victims’ struggles for truth and justice and also a warning to “professionals” to always be honest, open and to do their jobs thoroughly. The verdict shows we should never give up on the search for truth and justice. ”

Not just numbers but loved ones 

We welcomed the press seeing the victims not just as numbers but remembered as family members.

Those who died ranged in age from 10 to 67; 37 were teenagers. Three pairs of brothers, one pair of sisters and one father and son, Thomas Howard Sr and Jr, died together. Twenty-six of those who died were parents; 58 children lost a parent. Many of them have, as adults, attended the inquests almost every day during its two-year duration. It is by far the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history.  

Government gratitude for the families’ campaign

As acknowledged by the Home Secretary

“For 27 years the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities that should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves instead of acting in the public interest. But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth.

Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation, and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough.

That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole house will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. And we should also remember those who have sadly passed away while still waiting for justice.

No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in the search of the truth.

I hope that for the families and survivors who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied.”

Impact on families and campaign legacy

Julie Fallon, sister of Andrew Sefton, who was killed at Hillsborough, wrote about the impact on the families. She poignantly noted that “We no longer have any idea of the people we might have been without the influence of this disaster”.

She also wrote about the legacy of their campaign, stating

the truly astonishing fact that we as a support group – a mixed bag of bereaved, devastated family members, thrown together 27 years ago – are still standing here at all. We were not meant to be and if others had their way, we wouldn’t be. This is also our greatest achievement…

So, how on earth are we still standing here, then? We are still standing here because we are decent, ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making. In order not to be cowed whatever the cost, we have had to find within ourselves skills and attributes we never knew we possessed. We are an example of the very best this nation has to offer; dignified, resilient, honourable, compassionate, fair-minded and driven by a determination to have the truth exposed.

And there lies our real legacy, our real headline in history: “Hillsborough – the real truth”. We have paved the way for other ordinary, decent people in this country, who also find themselves in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making, to tread the path to truth and justice. We have swept the road before you, heaved boulders, checked for mines, swallowed dust, buried our dead at the roadside and, at times, crawled on our hands and knees, so that the path is now a little easier for you to walk on.

That is the significance of us still standing here after 27 years, and it is what the Hillsborough families should be ultimately remembered for, that we, at a very dear cost to ourselves, have given a measure of power and hope for what is possible, back to the ordinary person.

Lessons for RoadPeace

And whilst we take hope, power remains elusive. Hillsborough has also been a painful reminder that road crash victims regularly “walk alone”. There are no family forums or independent panels provided for them by the justice system. The call for a public advocate to represent the bereaved is limited to cases of mass disasters and will do nothing to help the vast majority of bereaved families who end up in the coroner’s court.  And this includes the majority of families bereaved by crashes.

The Home Secretary was just one of many to praise the determination and the resolve of the Hillsborough families. Their solidarity was credited with being a key reason that justice was achieved.

Similar solidarity is needed amongst road crash victims. And the need is great. The Hillsborough disaster represented a week’s road death toll in 1989, with 5373 killed on Britain’s roads that year. Since Hillsborough, over 85,000 sons and daughters have been killed in crashes in Britain.

As Lord Blunkett noted when debating the Public Advocate bill in the House of Lords,

“At the very moment when people are hurt the most—in one sense disabled the most from being able to be advocates on their own behalf and for those loved ones they have lost—we need to assist them to be able to articulate that hurt and to seek redress. More importantly than redress itself is to be able to investigate and put right those aspects which can be identified as having gone very badly wrong so that others do not have to suffer in that way. Therefore an advocate is needed most at the moment of greatest hurt.”

For over 24 years, RoadPeace has been an advocate for road crash victims. And just as the Hillsborough families’ campaign for justice is not over, neither is RoadPeace’s.