15 Jan 2009 : Column 5P

15 Jan 2009 : Column 5P

Petitions

Thursday 15 January 2009

Observations

Justice

Dangerous Drivers

The Petition of the family of Aaron Palmer and concerned residents of Vale of Glamorgan and others,

Declares that there should be justice for families of the innocent people who have been killed or injured by drunk drivers; such as 18 year old Aaron Palmer who was knocked down by a drunk driver and killed on Boxing Day 2003. The Petitioners further declare that those found guilty of drink driving should risk having their driving licences permanently revoked.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to consider bringing forward legislation to ensure that drink drivers who have recklessly killed someone in a crash have their driving licences permanently revoked.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by John Smith , Official Report, 17 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 1201.]

[P000301]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government strongly supports the need for stiff penalties for drink-driving and other bad driving which causes death. There was an extensive review and consultation exercise on road traffic offences involving bad driving in 2005, following which two new offences were included in the Road Safety Act 2006: causing death by careless driving, which has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment; and causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured, which has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. Prior to the introduction of those new offences the maximum sentence for careless, uninsured or unlicensed drivers who caused death was a fine. Those offences complement the previously existing offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, which have
15 Jan 2009 : Column 6P
a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. We believe that that provides an effective sentencing framework for drivers who cause death.

In July 2008 the Sentencing Guidelines Council issued a Definitive Guideline on sentencing for those offences. The Guideline makes clear that an offence will be considered more serious where there is evidence of driving impairment attributable to drink or drugs (where the presence of drink or drugs does not already form part of the definition of the offence).

For each offence, disqualification from driving is a mandatory part of the sentence (subject to very limited exceptions). An order that the disqualification continues until the offender passes an extended driving test is compulsory for those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, and discretionary in relation to the other two offences. Causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs carries a minimum disqualification of two years.

Disqualification for life is an option which is open to the courts. There will clearly be cases where very long disqualifications are justified by the circumstances of the offence and if the offender's record shows an irresponsible attitude to the use of vehicles. However, in a number of judgements the Court of Appeal have said that very long periods of disqualification can be counter-productive; that is because the prospect of losing a licence for a very long period, or of never being able to drive lawfully again, may only increase the temptation for offenders to ignore the ban and drive illegally. Very long disqualifications can also militate against rehabilitation, particularly if they affect job prospects. Disqualification for life is seen as a highly exceptional course, for example where the offender represents an extreme and indefinite danger to other road users.

In the light of the many considerations that must come into play in each case, and the often difficult balance that must be struck between the culpability of the offender and the impact on the victim, and between punishment and rehabilitation, we would be reluctant to limit the discretion of the courts in this area. Nevertheless, we are determined to ensure that, whatever the length of the disqualification; its effect is not eroded by time spent in custody for the offence. Provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill are designed to achieve that aim.


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