Schedule 18 - Drugs and driving: minor and consequential amendments

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 7th February 2013.

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Question proposed, That the schedule be the Eighteenth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

One might say this schedule is where the rubber hits the road in relation to the practical impact and penalties. Ordinarily, the drug-driving offence will attract a penalty of six months in a magistrates court. However, concerns have been raised about the penalties for very serious cases, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central, to whom I pay tribute for his sterling, champion efforts in bringing this provision to this stage. For Lillian and for others who, sadly, have lost their lives at the hands of drivers who had in their system controlled drugs over the  specified limit, we want to know that those drivers will be subject to a penalty more serious than six months. The plain intention of the Bill is that they will be subject to an indictable offence with a potential sentence of 14 years in prison. We welcome schedule 18(2).

The Minister made it clear in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central that charges of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drugs can be brought with evidence that the driver has in his body a specified controlled drug which exceeds the specified limit. This means that it is not necessary to have independent evidence of the standard of driving to bring that charge. That means that in tragic cases such as that of my hon. Friend’s constituent, drivers will rightly face a serious penalty.

I seek clarification. There is a gap, which the Minister’s words could no doubt plug. I want to ensure that there is no inequity. A driver who is over the specified limit of alcohol, who kills someone, is subject to a penalty. Is that penalty the same as that set out in schedule 18 for drivers with controlled drugs over the specified limit? Will the Minister clarify whether, for a driver who kills someone, their being over the drug or drink-driving limit is sufficient, without any other independent evidence on the standard of driving, for them to be charged with death by careless driving and face up to 14 years’ imprisonment?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Clause 37 creates the new offence of driving with a specified controlled drug in the body in excess of the specified limit for that drug. Schedule 18 makes a number of related consequential and minor amendments to give full effect to that offence. Under section 3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988—I hope that this will clarify matters for my hon. Friend—when someone who has drugs in their body drives carelessly and causes a death, they can be charged with the offence of causing death while under the influence of drink or drugs only if impaired driving is established specifically in the case concerned. The section 3A offence carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

Where impairment due to drugs cannot be established, the offence of causing death by careless driving in section 2B of the 1988 Act can still be used. The maximum penalty for the section 2B offence is five years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for the section 3A offence is considerably higher than for the section 2B offence, to reflect the aggravating circumstances of driving while impaired by drink or drugs. For drink-driving, the section 3A offence can be used if a driver has a concentration of alcohol in his or her body in excess of the prescribed limit. The effect of schedule 18 will be to apply the same principle to the new drug-driving offence. That is likely to involve a small number of cases, but each case is associated with a death and is therefore obviously very important.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

I welcome that helpful clarification. I want it to be made clear, however, that it will not be necessary for the prosecutor to independently prove careless driving as the standard of driving, and that the effect is that someone’s being over the prescribed limit for drugs or alcohol will be sufficient for the prosecutor to be able to make the decision to charge them with a serious offence.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

My understanding is that it will not be necessary. I hope that I have clarified the point.

Schedule 18 also makes provision for allowing up to a maximum of three preliminary tests to be administered to investigate whether a drug-driving offence has been committed. The preliminary tests would involve taking saliva samples. Provisions for taking more than one sample are needed to ensure that testing equipment can screen effectively for the presence of a sufficient range of drugs for the purposes of the new offence. If a suspect, without reasonable excuse, fails to co-operate with a preliminary test, he or she may be charged with the offence of failing to co-operate with a preliminary test under section 6 of the 1988 Act. That will remain the case when more than one test may be required.

The consequential amendments also provide the powers needed to require evidential blood or urine tests for the purposes of the new offence. Similar provision already exists for the specific drink-driving offence and the impairment offence under sections 5 and 4 respectively of the 1988 Act. Consequential amendments have also  been made so as to require a medical practitioner to advise that a person’s condition may be due to a drug before that person can be required to provide an evidential specimen.

Schedule 18 is technical, containing a series of minor, but nevertheless important, changes that give force to clause 37. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend and that the Committee will endorse the schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 18 accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,That the Order of the Committee of 22 January be amended by leaving out the sitting on Thursday 7 February at 2 pm.—(Mr Syms.)

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Syms.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 12 February at Five minutes to Nine o’clock.