Clause 64 - Causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs: increased penalties

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 8th June 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is, as always, a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. The clause fulfils the Government’s long-standing commitment to increase the maximum penalty for the offences of, first, causing death by dangerous driving and, secondly, causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from, in both cases, the current maximum sentence of 14 years to life imprisonment.

As members of the Committee will know, in response to the consultation on driving offences and penalties some time ago, the Government proposed to take forward various changes in the law, including these, and all of them received overwhelming public support and support from other consultees. By enacting this clause we are delivering on the result of that consultation and on a long-standing commitment. That means that when sentencing people for these very serious offences, the courts can sentence up to life imprisonment if the judge sees fit.

Many hon. Members will have constituency cases where families have suffered the terrible trauma of a loved one being killed by a dangerous or careless driver who was driving when drunk. I have certainly encountered a number of such cases in the last six years as a constituency MP, as I am sure each and every Member here has. The criminal justice system can never adequately compensate for the grief caused by the loss of a loved one in such terrible circumstances, but these changes will mean that courts now have the power to make sure that the punishment truly fits the crime.

It is appropriate that the maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence are increased from 14 years to life imprisonment. I commend these measures to the Committee.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am pleased to offer the Opposition’s enthusiastic support for clauses 64 to 66, and particularly for clause 64, which will increase the maximum penalties for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years’ imprisonment to imprisonment for life.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for their committed work to increase the penalty for those guilty of causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment and for the Bill they have promoted and supported. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East has worked alongside the family of Jaqueline Wileman, from Grimethorpe, who was 58 when she was struck and tragically killed by a stolen heavy goods vehicle in September 2018. I offer my sincerest thanks to the Wileman family for their tireless campaign for change, which they are now able to see become a reality.

Other families of victims of these awful crimes have also long campaigned to see these changes, such as the family of Violet-Grace, who died from injuries inflicted as a result of a car crash caused by individuals driving dangerously in March 2017. I hope that this change in the law, which they have fought to bring forward, will provide some small solace that dangerous drivers who kill will, in future, feel the full force of the law.

Work to address this important issue has been energetic on both sides of the House, and it was Mrs May who introduced the Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill in July 2020, as a private Member’s Bill co-sponsored by my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East and for Barnsley Central. We are therefore fully supportive of the Government’s proposal to provide the court with a wider range of penalties to ensure that sentences are proportionate and reflect the seriousness of the offending.

The urgent need for this change is illustrated by the fact that, in 2019, over 150 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. Of those offenders, around 95% received an immediate custodial sentence, of which over 15 received a sentence of more than 10 years. If 10% of offenders are already being sentenced near the maximum threshold, it seems the time is ripe to provide the court with wider sentencing powers for these offences so that offenders are dealt with consistently and fairly.

Although we are fully supportive of these changes, I note that there has been some delay in introducing them. The Government committed to changing the law on causing death by dangerous driving following a review in 2014—seven years ago. As the Minster said, it has been a long-standing commitment. There was also a consultation in 2016, which the Government responded to in 2017, committing to the legislative changes that are now in the Bill. The private Member’s Bill brought forward by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead last year was a real nudge along to the Government, following a perceived dropping of the ball. I would normally say, “Better late than never,” but for a measure as serious as this, and with hundreds of families losing loved ones to dangerous drivers in the intervening years, I wonder what held the Government up for so long.

Speaking of delays, Cycling UK said that, although it cautiously supports these proposals, it fears they will do very little to address the many serious problems with the framework of road traffic offences and penalties. I understand that the Government promised a full review of the framework back in 2014, but it has never happened. I would welcome an update from the Minister on the wider review, which could look at the utilisation of driving bans.

We fully support the proposals in clause 65, which introduces the new offence of causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving, and sets the maximum penalty for the offence on indictment at two years’ imprisonment.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Mr Cunningham, we are still on clause 64.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

In that case, I will sit down and address that point later.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have nothing further to add to my earlier answers. We keep these matters under continual review. There are no plans to make changes just at the moment, but we do of course keep an eye on these matters.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

A review was promised in 2014. Is that review likely to be held soon?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I have no specific information on that, other than to say that we keep an eye on these matters on an ongoing basis.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 64 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.