Why the justice system needs to be made fairer for road users
Why the justice system needs to be made fairer for road users
To mark the first anniversary of the tragic death of cyclist Rob Jefferies, British Cycling and Cycling Weekly are calling for urgent action to be taken by the government to make the justice system fairer for cyclists and other road users who are hurt or seriously injured on the country's roads.
With the support of Cycling Weekly and other cycling and road safety organisations, British Cycling is writing to Ken Clarke at the Ministry of Justice, Theresa May at the Home Office, and Justine Greening at the Department for Transport asking for a meeting to agree a plan of action that will give cyclists and all road users confidence that the justice system is playing the role it should to support and protect them.
Rob Jefferies, who worked for British Cycling as a volunteer co-ordinator, was on a daylight training ride near his home in Dorset with a friend when he was hit from behind and killed. The 18 year old man driving the car, who had already been caught speeding since passing his test earlier that year, was given an 18 month ban, a re-test and 200 hours of community service. This level of sentence is common, another example being the 24-week suspended sentence handed down in April this year to a man speeding in a lorry in Derbyshire who hit and killed club cyclist Karl Austin.
Rob's death and the handling of the case by the criminal justice system was a sad example, very close to home for us, of an issue that badly needs addressing. We believe that the sentences given out when people are hurt or killed frequently undermine confidence in the justice system and send the wrong message about how we as a society value life and the right of people to travel safely.
As it stands, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts believe they are correctly following the priorities, guidelines and laws that are currently in place. British Cycling and Cycling Weekly are today calling for a review of the whole system that governs how these incidents are investigated and prosecuted.
Martin Gibbs, British Cycling's Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, said:
"These issues affect all road users. At British Cycling we believe passionately that a culture of mutual respect on the roads is in everyone's interest. An essential ingredient of that culture is a process to ensure that when things go tragically wrong and people have behaved irresponsibly they are dealt with in a manner which is right and fair to all those involved."
Robert Garbutt, Editor of Cycling Weekly, said:
"It's time the government made the justice system fairer for cyclists who are hurt or seriously injured on our roads. Urgent action is needed to support bike riders, to give us the confidence that we are being supported and protected by the law. We want safer roads. We want them now."
Rob Jefferies brother, Will Jefferies, said:
"In spite of the best efforts of the police, the CPS and the legal team at British Cycling there could be no justice for Rob. The present state of the law meant that his killer could never receive a sentence proportionate to the crime. Rob's family all miss him a lot. We hope that his death can play some part in changing legislation for the better."
British Cycling and Cycling Weekly are calling for action in the following areas:
(a) A comprehensive review of the way that the police, coroners investigate these cases. Crash investigation processes vary from force to force and coroners' evaluation of evidence is inconsistent across the country. Victim and their families frequently find they have little or no information on how the case is proceeding and what, if any, charges are being considered and why.
(b) Review of the CPS charging standards and legal guidance to properly deal with the seriousness of incidents where road users are killed or injured. It often appears that the CPS chooses to go for inappropriately lighter charges or no charge at all.
(c) A full examination of the offences available to the CPS. The offence of causing ‘death by careless driving' came into effect four years ago and its effectiveness should now be reviewed, in conjunction with other related offences. We believe that the threshold for the more serious ' causing death by dangerous driving' offence may be too high which is contributing to a large proportion of cases being charged as 'causing death by careless driving.'
(d) A review of the sentencing guidelines to ensure they adequately reflect the consequences of the offence. Assault cases were reviewed and extensively revised by the Sentencing Council last year to enable the courts to take greater account of the harm suffered by the victim. We believe that harm caused to road users and the impact on their families should be specifically dealt with in a similar way. The new offence of ‘causing serious injury by dangerous driving' which has been recently introduced provides an opportunity to review guidelines across the suite of offences.
British Cycling has twice made representations to the Lord Chief Justice, President of the Sentencing Council, on the issue of sentencing this year but to date has not received a response. It's time for the government to engage with us on these important matters which are central to developing a safe environment that encourages people to cycle.
British Cycling and Cycling Weekly are today calling on their members and readers, and anyone who is interested in cycling and wants safer roads, to support us. We will shortly put together a plan of action to mobilise our members and other supporters. As well as meeting the senior ministers responsible for policy in this area we'll be meeting with other politicians, key departments, other cycling and road user groups, the CPS and ACPO. We'll be working hard to get a debate in parliament and to secure concrete commitments on policy change.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is supportive. In response to a passionate and moving question put to him by Rob Jefferies' brother, Will, at the London mayoral hustings he pledged to work with the Sentencing Unit at City Hall to monitor sentences and make representations to the Ministry of Justice and the London Criminal Justice Board. We will be working with the Mayor to make sure that this promise is delivered on.
A range of cycling and road safety related organisations are supporting this call of action. The CTC, London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans, Ian Austin MP, the road safety charities Brake and Roadpeace, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and British Cycling's solicitors Leigh Day and Co have all offered supportive quotes.