Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 introduced an offence of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving; this came into force on 3rd December 2012. As always it has taken a long time for the Police and CPS to start using the offence on a regular basis but we are now seeing the offence being prosecuted with some vigour. Having seen only 3 or 4 cases over the past couple of years I have seen 3 in the few months indicating something of a sea change in the prosecution attitude to using the offence. Interestingly I have often seen the offence charged when the evidence has been somewhat thin as an attempt to try to force a defendant into a plea to the lesser offence of dangerous driving.
Given the increase in the use of the offence a brief analysis is somewhat overdue.
LASPO 2012 amends the Road Traffic Act 1988 by inserting the following after section 1:
1A Causing serious injury by dangerous driving
1. A person who causes serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
2. In this section “serious injury” means-
a) in England and Wales, physical harm which amounts to grievous harm for the purposes of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861
I have previously posted about dangerous driving which is where the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
As shown in subsection 2 serious injury is defined as any physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm, this can include permanent disability, broken or displaced limbs or bones and serious psychiatric injury. It does not restrict the classification of person whom the Act applies to therefore it includes passengers in the car driven, drivers or passengers of other vehicles and pedestrians.
The offence is an 'either way offence' and may be tried in a Crown Court or Magistrates' Court dependent upon the seriousness of the facts in question and the defendant's decision as to where they would like the case heard.
In the Crown Court, the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment and/or a fine. In the Magistrates' Court the maximum sentence is six months imprisonment and/or a fine. In both courts, there will also be a mandatory two year minimum period of disqualification and endorsement. The law also requires an extended retest upon conviction.
For most dangerous driving cases involving some injury to other parties the current maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment provides the courts with appropriate powers to punish offenders. The s1A offence allows the courts to target their powers at the most serious and damaging end of the spectrum of dangerous driving incidents. This will give them access to greater sentencing powers to reflect the more serious consequences of a driver’s actions. As CPS guidance states:
“It is intended that victims who face life-changing injuries as a result of dangerous driving, their families, and society will feel better served by the level of punishment delivered by [Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving]”
The practical effect of the legislation
This offence fits neatly in the Road Traffic Act between s1- Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and s2- Dangerous Driving. This enables the courts to pass longer sentences in cases where people are seriously injured in road traffic accidents as a result of dangerous driving.
Prior to this legislation the CPS would follow one of two courses:
Firstly for more serious offences they would prefer charges of either a s18 or s20 Grievous Bodily Harm Charge (GBH either with or without intent) coupled with a charge of dangerous driving. This would require the CPS to prove GBH (subject to previous blog post here) in addition to the dangerous driving count. The maximum penalty for s18 GBH is life imprisonment so this should be reserved for the most serious of cases. Unfortunately in cases where serious injury could have occurred but did not the CPS would have a habit of charging dangerous driving with an attempted s18 GBH which would often lead to disproportionately high sentences on conviction for what could be relatively minor matters.
In less serious cases the CPS would charge the slightly archaic offence of Causing Grievous Bodily Harm by Wanton and Furious Driving contrary to s35 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. This requires the prosecution to prove that the person in charge of a carriage or vehicle, by wanton or furious (i.e. dangerous) driving, or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, [did or caused] to be done any bodily harm to any person. It is in effect the same as the s1A offence but with a less serious penalty attached.
So the offence of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving was a somewhat overdue response to the inadequate powers available under the Offences against the Person Act and the disproportionate punishments that could ensue from using s18 or s20 GBH.
The effect on corporate bodies
In prosecutions under s1A many companies/insurers choose to fund effective representation for their employees/insured. This is due to the fact that the offence itself relates to a course of conduct and will therefore only concern the driver himself/herself however corporate owners/insurers should be aware that a successful prosecution under s1A will potentially prejudice any concurrent civil proceedings or claim. Section 1A requires that that serious injury be established, therefore in the event of a guilty plea, or a guilty verdict, it will be said that injuries were serious enough to constitute grievous bodily harm. This will mean that serious injury will already have been established to the criminal standard in the Criminal Courts. Of course this will have a potentially detrimental effect upon the defence of potentially very costly civil claims. In those circumstances the funding of the criminal proceedings can be seen as an economically sensible decision rather than leaving the matter in the hands of overstretched legal aid practitioners.
Quentin Hunt is a Barrister with a reputation as a leading expert in road traffic matters. If you or an employee of yours faces a prosecution or investigation for an offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving it is important that well informed expert representation is secured as soon as possible. Contact Quentin for a no obligation conversation about your case.
POSTED: Wednesday, April 8, 2015