The Crown Prosecution Service: Gatekeeper of the Criminal Justice System - Justice Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by RoadPeace

JUSTICE COMMITTEE CPS INQUIRY

ROADPEACE KEY POINTS

Role of CPS in criminal justice system related to motoring offences

  1.  The CPS, not the police, should make the charging decision on all serious motoring offences, ie those involving death or serious injury.

  2.  Joint training of CPS and Police is needed, as with other specialist areas and this should include the importance and accuracy of speed estimation, and the associated risks of aggressive and impaired driving (speeding, drink driving, running a red light, etc.)

  3.  Speeding and other motoring offences should be included in any anti social behaviour survey and in any CPS anti social behaviour policy.

  4.  The CPS' accountability should be improved with the monitoring of the prosecution and conviction rate of serious motoring offences with serious injury crashes monitored separately. This could be posted on a website for the public to see.

Effectiveness of CPS in improving level of satisfaction with road crash victims and liaising with local communities

  5.  The CPS should be responsible for informing the bereaved family of the charging decision, not the police as at present.

  6.  The CPS should extend adopt the policy of applying the Code for Victims to all those seriously injured in crashes where a driver is being prosecuted (the Code currently excludes all those injured in crashes).

  7.  The CPS should ensure that better information is provided to road crash victims regarding the criminal prosecution. RoadPeace is willing to assist the CPS with this.

  8.  CPS lead prosecutor on road deaths should be in contact with any local road victims group.

  9.  Consistency should be improved with standard procedures adopted (see suggested list) (not printed).

  10.  The CPS should take more chances with prosecution of serious motoring offences, as they have with rape charges.

  11.  The CPS should consider bad driving as one of its priorities, given the number of deaths and injuries involved in culpable crashes.

  12.  In addition to colouring fatal files, the CPS should colour code those motoring offences involving serious injury, and include a summary checklist for monitoring purposes.

INTRODUCTION

  RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, was established in 1993, after the founder's son was killed in a crash by a driver who had driven through a bank of red traffic lights and yet was only prosecuted for "Driving without due care and attention". RoadPeace's main campaigning concentrated on road death and serious injury being central to any charges brought, and therefore mentioned in them, and for these charges to be tried in Crown Courts. We have responded to numerous consultations on the prosecution of road death and injury, and also participated in the 2002 HMcpsi review of the CPS' prosecution of fatal crashes.

  RoadPeace is committed to road danger reduction and thus believes more should be done to reduce the threat posed by bad driving, including before casualties occur.

ROADPEACE DEDICATION

  Our response is dedicated to two victims whose deaths we believe were not given proper priority by the CPS: Jon Chandler and Emma Wolsey.

  Jon Chandler was one of the five people killed when the recovery van in which he was travelling (their vehicle had broken down and they were being transported back), ran into the back of a lorry going at 19 mph on a motorway in the middle of the night in August 2007. The lorry had been seen weaving between lanes and the driver driving with his elbows (what the CPS described as "This is not an uncommon practice with HGV drivers, but it is certainly not good practice"). The driver of the recovery van, who tested positive for drugs, was killed in the crash. The CPS explained their decision not to prosecute the lorry driver as "his speed was not disrupting the flow of traffic, and as there is no minimum speed limit prosecuting him for either dangerous or careless driving would not be feasible".

  Emma Wolsey was killed a year ago this month when she correctly used a signalised pedestrian crossing at a roundabout but was hit by a young driver who had admitted smoking marijuana that day. Despite the protests of her family and the police, the CPS only charged the driver with Careless Driving. The District Judge later apologised to Emma's family stating that this should have been a Causing Death by Dangerous Driving prosecution.

CPS INQUIRY

  Comment on the following areas was specifically requested by the Justice Committee:

    1. Role of CPS in criminal justice system:

(a)How the CPS works with the Police.

(b)CPS and anti-social behaviour.

(c)CPS accountability.

    2. Effectiveness of CPS:

(a)Communication with victims and witnesses.

(b)CPS and local communities.

(c)Timely and consistent service.

(d)Effective case management and decision making.

(e)Key area management (rape and domestic violence prosecution).

  RoadPeace's response to these questions applies to the prosecution of bad driving offences and is based on our 15 years of working for and with road crash victims.

1.   Role of CPS

(a)  How the CPS works with the police

  The CPS recently clarified to us that they are still dependent on the police choosing to pass them case files involving road death and injury for their advice; the police are not required to do so. We do not think this happens with other offences involving death and injury and ask that the CPS role be expanded so that they are required to review all motoring offences that involve death or serious injury. This is not limited to death or serious injury being mentioned in any offence as there is no dangerous or careless driving charge that mentions serious injury.

  There is no joint training or joint reviews of the CPS and police regarding motoring offences. We believe it would be also useful if the CPS were better informed of the civil claim procedures as claims are affected by the criminal prosecution.

(b)  Anti-social behaviour

  RoadPeace does not believe motoring offences are treated properly as crime or anti-social behaviour. The definition of violent crime does not require physical injury yet dangerous driving, careless driving, drink driving, let alone speeding, are not considered as violent crimes.

  The BCS survey reported speeding vehicles as the leading type of anti social behaviour reported by the public until it was decided to drop speeding vehicles as a possible answer.

(c)  Accountability

  RoadPeace has previously expressed concern about the lack of accountability with the CPS and prosecution of bad driving as the number of motoring offences involving fatal or serious injury was not previously monitored. It was not possible to know the number of fatal or serious injury crashes where a driver had been prosecuted or convicted as the casualty is not mentioned in all of the charges.

  The Sentencing Advisory Panel's Advice on Causing Death by Driving included the findings from a 10 month survey by the CPS of the fatal crashes where a charge of Careless Driving was expected. It identified 66 cases but five of these were later dropped. Thus they expect less than 100 Causing Death by Careless Driving charges a year.

  As with rape and other serious crime, there should be monitoring of both prosecution and conviction rates with serious motoring offences. It should also be possible to know how many cases were discontinued due to the lack of witnesses. It can take months before witness statement forms are posted to the witnesses and this should be done within a few days of the crash. We have previously suggested to the CPS and the Justice Committee that such key monitoring information is put on a website that the public can check.

2.   Effectiveness of CPS

  Our comments should be put in proper context. While the CPS have recently revised their Bad Driving Prosecution policy and this includes an improved service for bereaved families of culpable road crashes, our concern is that the improvements will not be implemented consistently and do not go far enough, especially when those seriously injured are involved. We are aware of cases where the CPS caseworkers were not aware that those seriously injured in crashes could make a Victim Personal Statement.

(a)  Road crash victims

  The CPS charging decision is conveyed to the family by the police FLO, not by the CPS. We believe the CPS should contact the family directly and inform them of their charging decision. We also think the meeting with the CPS and bereaved families should involve the police as there will inevitably be questions about the investigation. There is no consistent policy at present, at least not in implementation.

(b)  Local communities

  We believe it is rare for the CPS to attend community policing meetings or liaise with victim groups. In London, RoadPeace will soon introduce a six week pilot support programme for those newly bereaved in crashes in London. The CPS in London have agreed to participate in this programme and will present one of the key talks on criminal prosecution. But we are also aware that some of our local groups have had difficulty in contacting the CPS, and the latter have not been interested in speaking at local meetings.

(c)  Timely and consistent service

  We do not think victims of crashes receive a consistent service from the CPS. We have given an example above with the bereaved family meeting with the CPS. Another example is with the timing of the inquest vs the criminal trial. In some cases, the CPS do not request the trial be postponed until after the inquest, despite the CPS issuing guidance on this. In some areas, the CPS will attend an appeal, but not in others. The prosecutor can change at the last minute, including in fatal cases.

  The CPS should adopt such standard practices as:

    — Visit crash site in cases of serious motoring offences.

    — Attend inquest of any crash where a driver may be prosecuted.

    — Inform the bereaved family directly of their charging decision.

    — Ensure the same prosecutor who meets the family prosecutes the case in court and also attends the appeal.

(d)  Effective case management and decision making

  We are concerned at the high chance of conviction required before the CPS will prosecute for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and for Causing Death by Careless Driving while under the influence. The conviction rate is over 85%, which is much higher than required. We believe it is even higher where there is only injury or no injury involved.

  In many cases, the bereaved families have argued for the CPS to charge Causing Death by Dangerous Driving instead of Careless Driving on the basis that former is still open to the jury when Careless Driving is charged. The CPS did not need to eliminate that option.

  In the 2002 HMcpsi inspectorate review, the need to mark (colour) the fatal files so they stood out was highlighted. RoadPeace believes all motoring case files should be coloured according to the casualties severity involved. There is also the need for a summary cover sheet to assist with monitoring. This should note such key facts as the date the CPS was first notified of this case, when the file was sent for advice, if the CPS had attended the site, what charge the police were recommending, if supervision was requested, driver record, breathalyser/FIT test, etc.

  There is also a problem with the lack of training. Not only is there no joint training with traffic police as mentioned above, but the CPS have informed us that they receive no training in road traffic injury prevention. Thus they are not informed of the associated risks of such behaviours as speeding, drink driving, use of a mobile phone. They do not know what efforts have been made to tackle bad driving. This is evident in their new Bad Driving Prosecution's policy effective dismissal of speeding with very little said about the lead factor in road death and injury. We believe training is also needed to tackle the confusion around intent. We have heard of cases where the CPS have told families that Dangerous Driving requires intent, which is not the case.

(e)  Key area management

  Bad driving is not a key area for the CPS despite over four times as many people dying in crashes than by homicide. There are no specialist courts, no area coordinators, no poster campaigns, no snapshot monitoring as with domestic violence.

  Lastly, while the consideration of charges are beyond the scope of this enquiry, they will still affect the prosecution of culpable driving that has injured but not killed. Drink driving that permanently disables someone is still only charged as drink driving, unless there is separate proof of dangerous driving. Careless driving that leaves someone in a coma is still a non-custodial offence.

Amy Aeron-Thomas

Executive Director

May 2008





 
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