Dangerous Driving Offences (Sentencing)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:02 pm on 4th November 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:02 pm, 4th November 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I congratulate my hon. Friend Alok Sharma on securing this debate, which I welcome. My thoughts and prayers are with his constituents’ families, and all those who have been mentioned today. Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Road Safety Minister, is in his place to listen to the debate. I pay tribute to him, and will refer back to the work done on this issue over the years, not least the work that he and I both did in our former occupation.

Far be it from me to nudge my colleagues into going before any Committee, but given the absolutely understandable strength of feeling here today, the petition may well get 100,000 signatures, and no doubt should. It should go before the Backbench Business Committee, as we need a much longer debate on the matter. I do not mind whether I respond to that debate or the Road Safety Minister does, but the House should hear more about the effects on Members’ constituents, including my own—Ministers should never forget that we are still MPs, and I know my constituents will support many of the comments made today.

Nothing I say today will bring back Kris and John. As an ex-fireman, ex-paramedic and ex-Road Minister—I have lots of ex-careers—one of the most poignant jobs I have ever had was going to what used to be called, inappropriately, road traffic accidents and are now quite rightly called road traffic collisions. I pay tribute to all our blue-light responders: our police, ambulance and fire crews, and representatives of local authorities, who are now often there. They do a fantastic job for us every day. Going to an incident is enormously difficult, as responders can see what has been done to an individual or individuals by someone who should never have been driving the car in the first place because they were disqualified—as in this case—who should not have been behind the wheel because they were drunk and who had no regard for another person’s life.

Far be it from any parliamentarian, including me, to tell a judge what they should do in their court—we do not have that system in this country, thank goodness—but it is absolutely right and proper that Parliament decides the punishment for a crime. It is then for the judges to interpret that. In this particular case the judge interpreted the law and decided that the sentence would be 10 years and three months. The offender and his legal team appealed against that sentence, but thank goodness we saw common sense.

For this offence it falls within the capabilities of the prosecuting team to appeal to the Attorney-General against an unduly lenient sentence. I do not know what the Attorney-General might have decided, but that option was certainly within the capability of the prosecution. As a Back-Bench MP, I appealed against lenient sentences on many occasions, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

My hon. Friend Gareth Johnson touched on the issue of what the CPS looks at. I am not a lawyer—there are many in the House—but the problem with the law as it stands is the issue of intent. It is a question of whether the driver intended to go and do what they did. That is why the CPS tends to hold back from prosecuting for murder or manslaughter. It is entitled to do that, however; that is within the regulations.

I turn now to what we are going to do—and not only because of the debate, the petition and the ongoing review. There are a couple of matters I will touch upon.