Life Behind Bars

I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen on a news report a distraught and torn apart family stood on the steps of a court outlining how their lives have been turned upside down. How their loved one has been taken from them and that the sentence imposed on the dangerous driver was not enough.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve posted a link to a court case and a conviction for death by dangerous driving and been bombarded with tweets from people stating the conviction is just not enough.

No matter how long or short the sentence imposed upon such a driver is it will never bring back the person who lost their life. It will never fill the gap in the family that has been created by such tragic loss nor ease the pain and the grief.

As the current legislation stands the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving (s1 offence) is 14yrs imprisonment.  That said the sentencing guidelines are complex and many considerations have to be taken into account by the judge before he/she can determine the relevant ‘starting point’. Once this is done the judge must consider any aggravating factors, any mitigating factors, reductions for a guilty plea and more. The current sentencing guidelines in full are here for the s1 offence.

Sentences are consequently quite varied. This driver escaped jail altogether, this driver was jailed for two years and Tomasz Kroker who killed 3 children and an adult was sentenced to 10 years.

Considering the devastation caused by Kroker it is quite surprising to many that a maximum tariff was not imposed but when you look at the sentencing guidelines you can see how it gets reduced down in some cases. Many families have said that the sentences handed down are insufficient. The driver who killed their loved one will spend a couple of years in jail, the rest on early release and then get on with their life. They on the other hand face a life sentence of grief and pain.

The issue of course is that the courts must be dispassionate when sentencing offenders and not driven by the emotion of the family or indeed the public. However, it has been a campaign issue for many individuals and groups over the years that the maximum sentence for the s1 offence be increased. There have also been many arguments about the validity of the s1 offence in some cases over charges for manslaughter or murder. The Government have eventually reacted to these concerns and in December 2016 launched a consultation. Over 9000 people submitted their thoughts and the government have now responded. The news item can be found here.

In summary a life sentence will now be the maximum sentence for those who cause death by dangerous driving ‘and’ careless drivers who kill whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. A new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving will also be introduced. Ministers confirm that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing or using a mobile phone could face penalties equivalent to manslaughter seeing a rise from 14yrs to life.

This is a massive shift for road policing legislation but before we all celebrate we need to consider that sentencing guidelines will still apply and life actually meaning life will be few and far between if ever. Dangerous driving is one of those offences that is committed by people from all backgrounds. Many with no previous criminal history at all and as such a life sentence on first conviction may be unattainable. They key factor in determining the length of any sentence imposed will be where the sentencing ‘starting point’ sits.

My view is that a life behind bars with no chance of parole is highly unlikely. I’m of the belief that life sentences will be handed down with a minimum tariff. As a hypothetical example.. Kroker may have been given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 15yrs. He would then be eligible for parole and release on a life licence. Only time will tell how this will eventually start to be imposed.

This new legislation, when enacted, is going to see a lot of people facing some fairly hefty prison sentences, even on first conviction. The dangers of drug and drink driving are well known but many people do not comprehend or grasp the very real dangers of using a phone for any purpose at all. For every drink or drug driver there are hundreds of drivers who will happily use their phone behind the wheel. I honestly believe that more and more collisions involving phones will occur and I also believe that advancing technology will enable police to detect with even greater accuracy what purpose a phone was being put to at the time of a collision.

The message is quite clear. If you drive dangerously then the courts are going to have some very hefty sentences at their disposal and you could find yourself behind bars for life.

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