Criminal Justice and Courts Bill




2. It is my understanding from recent correspondence with David Cameron and Chris Grayling that measures concerning causing death while driving whilst disqualified will be introduced into the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill you are currently discussing in Committee Stage.

3. I set out below the events that have lead to me wanting changes to be introduced, finishing with a summary of what I feel needs to be changed.

4. At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday 30 January 2013 Mr Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, raised the matter of the death of Mr Paul Stock in March 2012. Paul was my brother-in-law and was married to my sister Mandy for over 30 years; they ran a car repair business together for 25 years. His death has left a massive void in our lives, especially Mandy’s as they lived and worked together throughout this time and were seldom apart. Now Paul is dead, their business has closed and Mandy is totally let down by the system that is supposed to protect us.

5. Mr Graham mentioned dangerous driving several times in his address to the House of Commons, but Mandy’s main concern is with the ridiculously low maximum sentences associated with causing death whilst disqualified and/or uninsured – the charges that Paul’s killer was convicted of. He was given the maximum sentence of 2 years, reduced by 6 months as the defendant pleaded guilty at an early stage and, if released early under licence, that could be reduced to 9 months. Paul underwent several hours of life saving surgery immediately after the collision, and continued to receive amazing medical care and further surgery until his death a week later. We were also appalled to find that if Paul had survived the horrific injuries he sustained whilst crossing a residential road, the defendant would probably not have been given a custodial sentence at all, and merely received a fine.  For any kind of justice to be served, death and serious injury caused in this manner by a person serially disqualified from driving and uninsured must carry a heavier sentence than 2 years or a fine.

6. The main point to be raised is that there are complex criteria for what is or is not classed as dangerous, careless or reckless driving. The dangerous/careless guidelines range widely, with the highest sentence being 14 years imprisonment. If the CPS decides that the manner of driving does not fit these criteria, even though it is obviously dangerous or careless to any sane law abiding person, the charge is simply causing death while disqualified and the Act covering this is relatively new and separate. As a result, this new Act seems to have been left out of any reviews, with the maximum penalty being only 2 years, regardless of the offender’s previous driving history and any other aggravating factors. The severity of the crime is grossly understated in the sentencing guidelines, ultimately a person has died. The offender who killed Paul has 24 previous motoring convictions. He falsely insured the vehicle, not to comply with the law but to abuse it by avoiding being pulled up by ANPR technology. He had a pillion on a single seat bike. He was speeding in a residential area.

7. The Judge in this case, Judge Jamie Tabor QC, has written a private letter to Mandy and in the court repeatedly asked why a charge of careless driving had not been brought, which is a separate issue; he described this case as the "worst of its type imaginable". Judge Tabor continued in the court by saying "This was bound to happen at some time or another and I say that because he is a man with an appalling driving record.", "You are a menace, an absolute menace on the roads.", "His pre-sentence report describes Mr Godwin’s attitude to life as someone that ‘considers himself exempt from some of the roles that govern society’ and I agree", "Nothing I can do can possibly reflect the value of the life of Mr Stock".

8. Mandy wrote to the Judge following the sentencing to thank him for doing what he could and for mentioning his obvious frustration with the sentencing guidelines. He admitted there is no deterrent to stop repeat offenders. Our Judges see it all too often, and it is time to take notice of their views.

9. In his response to Richard Graham’s comments, David Cameron mentioned that he would ask the Justice Secretary to look at these issues. There seemed to be considerable support from the members of the House of Commons for change during this exchange during Prime Minister’s questions.

10. In February 2013, my sister and I met with both David Cameron (my MP) and Chris Grayling concerning these issues and were pleased to find support and understanding for the need for changes both in the law and sentencing guidelines in these areas. We have been in ongoing correspondence with both David Cameron and Chris Grayling concerning the changes that need to be implemented, the latest letters being received in February 2014.

11. Mandy launched e-petitions and written petitions regarding changes in the law and we gathered well over 1,000 signatures. During 2014 there have been two private members bills and one ten minute rule bill, with some discussion in the Chamber, regarding similar changes being necessary after at least ten deaths related to driving offences in MPs constituencies. It is time to make changes before more innocent people lose their lives unnecessarily. There is no provision for injury however severe or any realistic deterrent to kerb these repeat offenders; this also needs to be dealt with.

12. These are not just my views, after correspondence and discussions with both the Judge and Senior CPS Prosecutor in this case, it is clear there is a major on-going problem with both the attitudes and actions of these serial offenders. They are a cause for genuine concern and effective measures need to be taken not only to deal with the consequences of their actions but also to deal with the real issue of prevention by means of an effective deterrent. Left unchecked they will continue to kill and maim innocent victims in ever increasing numbers.

13. The charge of causing death while disqualified is relatively new; being introduced in 2008. It was specifically brought in to cover disqualified drivers who were not driving dangerously; ie within the general rules of the law, even though they should not have been on the road in the first place, basically the victim may have been the cause. This charge is now being used as a default, firstly as there is no requirement of proof that dangerous/careless driving was to blame, and secondly there are too many clauses and loopholes to evade the higher charges, hence the continual plea bargaining to lower sentences. Basically it is used to avoid the time and cost involved in proving guilt of the higher offences in court; "He's got death while disqualified anyway" was one of the phrases used by the police during the investigation into my husband’s death.

14. This charge does not revolve around proof of danger or carelessness and so has fallen behind the other categories; however it has totally lost track of the fact someone has died as a result of deliberate, repeated disregard for the law and previous court order imposed. Nobody expects someone who made a genuine mistake to get the maximum sentence: however there should be an adequate provision to cover the most extreme cases of blatant disregard for the law and life itself. This is obviously not the case at the moment. The Judge should have the power to "reflect the value of life" in these extreme cases.

15. The whole issue of disqualified drivers needs review, but my main points in need of consideration are:

16. Increase the maximum sentence for Causing Death While Disqualified.

17. It is obvious there needs to be a dramatic increase in the sentencing guidelines; they are grossly inadequate and need to reflect the fact that someone has actually died as a direct result of a repeated, deliberate illegal action. These serial offenders have a total disregard for the law and previous court orders imposed; they have not made an unfortunate mistake. Any other illegal acts such as speeding and falsely insuring the vehicle are aggravating factors because of the fact they are illegal.

18. Introduce a new charge for Causing Serious Injury.

19. At present the maximum sentence for causing even the most severe of injuries is only 6 months (effectively 2 months after reductions) for Driving While Disqualified. This is not acceptable. Ken Clarke has set precedence by introducing an injury charge into the dangerous driving equation; this needs to be extended to cover disqualified offenders. 2 months in custody is not a just punishment for inflicting severe injuries that can, and do, destroy the lives of not only the victims, but also their families. The argument then of course would be define 'serious', so maybe 'injury' with a sliding scale of severity inflicted, and/or consideration of previous driving history would be a more realistic approach. There must be a substantial custodial sentence for the most severe cases.

20. Introduce a minimum custodial penalty for repeat offenders

21. I'm not asking or implying that a minimum sentence is to be given to everyone for a first offence. From the guidelines it is obvious it takes several offences, or something really major to get disqualified in the first place, assuming the offender had a licence to start with. If the offender is caught driving while disqualified after the ban is imposed, there may be a genuine reason for breaking it, an emergency etc. Getting caught a 2nd time is dubious; the possibility of getting apprehended the only 3 times you commit an offence is extremely unlikely, so it is safe to assume they have committed more offences.

22. At present if the offender gets caught the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, time all they receive is a fine or another disqualification, they soon realise there is nothing to stop them and start to push the limits further; there is no threat to deter them. The 6 month maximum sentence (2 months in reality) is obviously not a deterrent, which is why it is seldom implemented, especially in view of the overcrowding issue. If on the second offence they are warned, if you do it again, there is a minimum 3 year sentence", then it might make them think a little, before they get into the cycle of abuse. Those who have already breached the court orders imposed, more than 3 times need a stiff penalty to deliver a message to others.

23. The sentencing guidelines council is trying to reflect consistency across the board; Burglary is obviously a serious crime, but not normally life threatening. 3 years is the minimum sentence which has to be imposed for 3 standard domestic burglaries. These disqualified, serial offenders have the potential to kill every time they go on the road; a similar minimum sentence should be available to kerb these people. I know prison is a costly option and budgets are tight, but these offenders need to be dealt with and stopped. With the current guidelines, they will eventually kill when there is nothing to deter them until they do. Even then, when they do kill 2 years (18 months) is not a deterrent to prevent them going back on the streets and doing it again.

24. "Brake" the road charity, advocate any form of illegal driving is dangerous when it has resulted in death or injury, and also ask why any form of excessive speed is tolerated. Graham Godwin is not an exception, there are an increasing number of deaths being caused by disqualified 'drivers, some are obviously driving dangerously, with excessive speed, but many know to stay off the radar to avoid detection. Dangerous or careless is difficult to prove if there is no video or CCTV evidence, unless there is major excessive speed. Why is 40% over the speed limit not dangerous or careless?

25. In Summary:

26. The reaction of the house to the initial question raised sums up the feeling of the vast majority of decent law abiding people. They rightly expect the law and judicial system to protect them, and are at present being failed. It is ultimately your duty and responsibility to ensure these offenders are deterred or prevented from causing death or serious harm. The issue of prevention is as important, if not more important than dealing with the consequences after the event.

27. The 3 points raised are all interconnected:

28. Dramatically raise the current maximum sentence for Causing Death While Disqualified, to reflect the fact someone has died as a result of repeated, deliberate disregard for the law.

29. Introduce a new charge to cover serious injury, (or any injury if it would prevent loopholes) with a sliding scale to reflect the severity of injury or history of the offender. This must ultimately carry a substantial custodial sentence. Some injuries result in little or no quality of life for the victim, or their families.

30. Introduce an EFFECTIVE DETERRENT to give a serious message to stop the deliberate, repeated disrespect shown for the law. The maximum threshold would therefore need to rise to accommodate this. Some offenders in this category may genuinely kill as a result of a one off mistake, but mitigating circumstances are always taken into account by judges passing sentence. However, many offences in this category are blatantly disrespecting the law, and the guidelines need to empower the judges to pass the heavier sentences should the circumstances demand it. Just because there is no requirement for proof of danger, does not mean it is an easy option. The fact that laws have been broken is the key - Being disqualified, speeding, carrying an illegal pillion, are breaches of the law. Falsely insuring the vehicle shows intent. This loophole needs to be closed with the utmost urgency. Prevention to deal with the cause would, I hope, lessen the need to deal with the consequences.

31. Thank you for your time and I hope you will consider all I have raised with the respect it deserves. These are not unreasonable requests, but measures many would expect to already be in place.

April 2014

Prepared 2nd April 2014