MoJ proposals revictimise crash victims

Fair compensation for road crash victims–this should not be too much to ask for road crash victims–given the state had already failed to protect them from harm.

But the MoJ is proposing (yet again) to make life harder for crash victims.

They have launched a lengthy consultation. In a nutshell…

The MoJ want to reduce, if not eliminate, compensation for the pain and suffering incurred by whiplash. To tackle fake whiplash claims, they are proposing to deny compensation for innocent victims. Even those injured in crashes where a driver was prosecuted for causing the crash—even these victims would be treated as if they are fraudulent.

And they also want to increase the small claims court limit from £1k to £5k. This would mean that all those victims with claims up to £5k would not be able to get their legal costs paid. Crash victims would be expected to defend themselves or pay out of their pocket to be represented by a professional after being wrongfully injured.

No surprise—RoadPeace (still) opposes them

RoadPeace opposes the MoJ’s, proposal, as we did in 2013 when similar proposals were drafted. At that time, the House of Commons Transport Committee appreciated the unfairness in these proposals and were able to stop them from being implemented. With much greater commitment to promoting active travel, we need their help and others to help block the new proposals.

Road Victims are Real Victims campaign

So we are campaigning with Cycling UK and Living Streets to ensure that road victims are treated as real victims.  Cycling UK has been fantastic and organised an easy to use on line letter that is sent to the MoJ. Please write today to ensure the MoJ knows how disastrous these proposals would be.

CWIS, Better Justice and Civil Justice

And the active travel community is right to be worried. These proposals are particularly unfair to pedestrians and cyclists. We highlighted this concern in our response to the draft CWIS consultation this spring, where we called for a Better Justice theme to be added, noting that

Those walking and cycling face not only greater risk of being injured, but they will also be much less likely to have access to justice and legal advice through an insurance policy. And the proposed reform of removing the right to general damages and increase in the small claims court limit will make it even harder for injured walkers and cyclists to claim compensation.

The government’s recent British Road Safety Statement prioritised “Fair and responsive” insurance but focused only on reducing the costs for insurance companies and “honest motorists”, with no thought given to innocent victims of crashes. Whiplash is a problem with motor vehicle occupants, too often caused by criminal drivers. Injured pedestrians and cyclists should not be penalised as a should not be penalised as a result reforms aimed at reducing whiplash and fraudulent claims.

Need to cycle proof justice policies

We also argued in our response that

Just as the CWIS proposes to review the planning process to audit its impact on active travel, so should this apply to any changes in civil compensation or criminal justice procedures.

If government is to be serious about promoting active travel, then we need joined up thinking and consistent policies.

We also raised this with Andrew Jones, Road Safety Minister, after the DfT’s British Road Safety Statement was published. RoadPeace offered to organise a meeting with victims and personal injury solicitors to ensure the DfT were reminded of the honest need for motor insurance compensation.

And we repeated this offer last month, when the Road Safety Minister attended our London service commemorating the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. By this time, the MoJ had launched its consultation, with the dreaded proposals on whiplash claims and small claim limits.

There are many ways in which the MoJ does not treat crash victims as victims, including:

  • not even counting the victims of road traffic crime
  • the refusal to include culpable road deaths as homicides
  • the miserly bereavement damages in England and Wales
  • not including road crime victims in criminal justice strategies

Please don’t let them add to this list. Consultation closes 6 January 2017.


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.