Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:09 pm on 8th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 6:09 pm, 8th July 2019

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s contribution in her speech and intervention. I ask the question “How?” simply because it can very often be an issue for all of us, so ignoring it and trying to pretend that it is not an issue would perhaps be an easy way out for me as the responsible Minister.

I want to get on with this, and I know that all hon. Members present, as well as those with an interest who cannot be with us today, want to get on with it. I accept that we owe that not just to the families of those who have already been bereaved, but to future potential victims. I say that—I hope with sufficient force—because I have seen from my case experience as Solicitor General the problem with the current maximum.

I am grateful to Colleen Fletcher, who quite rightly mentioned the appalling case in her constituency. I became very familiar with that case because I dealt with the unduly lenient sentence reference myself; I felt that there was such a strong public interest to be served that I appeared before the Court of Appeal as Solicitor General and presented the case myself. I am glad that in that case Sir Brian Leveson, the then president of the Queen’s bench division—he has just retired, but during his long and distinguished career he took a keen interest in these cases—rightly increased the sentence to 10 and a half years.

I argued on behalf of the Crown in that case that there was justification, in cases of causing death where there were multiple fatalities, to depart from practice and to impose consecutive sentences. I felt that would be an acknowledgement of how, in cases of such seriousness, that was the only sufficient way for the court to reflect the gravity of the offending. The Court of Appeal did not accept my submissions. Therefore we are back in the position where, without an increase in the maximum sentence, the totality of the offending cannot be adequately reflected when, for example, there is more than one fatality, the driving conduct was particularly aggravated or there is aggravation because of previous convictions.

Therein, perhaps, lies some of the answer to the concerns expressed by families: that the total criminality is often not reflected by the level of the sentence. Sentencing precedent and guidelines allow that to be done when the principle of totality of sentencing is applied. Even though a charge is recorded on a particular offence that might not have merited a separate penalty, the offending should and must be taken into account when assessing the totality of the sentence. That might include having no insurance. Driving offences of that nature should be reflected in the overall sentence passed on the lead offence, which would often be the most serious matter.

I want to deal with each, in turn, of the excellent contributions that we have heard today.