The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wise Words (That Will Be Ignored Again)

I have blogged more than once about the 'Sun' inspired legislation providing for prison sentences for causing death by careless driving, an offence that requires no intent, merely a human error. Here is a letter to The Times from a former Attorney-General.
This legislation encapsulates everything that is wrong with the Government's tabloid-led populism. It is being rushed in, it will be unfair and unjust, it will establish a dangerous principle, and it won't save a single life.

This, thanks to a commenter, is the text:-
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2006 The Times

Sir, Rushed legislation leads to injustice. This week will see a bad example.

The Road Safety Bill provides for sentences of up to five years' imprisonment for careless driving if a death is caused. Never before have we legislated to send people to prison for ordinary negligence. Its ramifications if carried to other areas -education, medicine, commerce and industry -would be very serious.

The House of Lords has twice rejected the principle after full debate, firstly in January 10, 2006, at third reading, and again last week. But because of a technical slip in January, noticed by no one at the time, this potentially deeply unjust measure will become law.

Normally the mistake would have been corrected, or other options considered, but this part of the Bill was only introduced on report. It had no second reading in the House of Lords and no committee stage.

Dangerous driving is more than 20 times more likely to lead to death than is careless driving. At present the distinction between dangerous and careless driving is clear. The prosecution must focus on what it has to prove in each case, and the defendant knows the case against him, one of the fundamentals of natural justice. In future all this will be blurred.

When the Government consulted, all too briefly, last year it was warned strongly of the risks to justice by the Lord Chief Justice, by the Council of Circuit Judges and by the Justices Clerks Association. The courts have emphasised repeatedly that, while the consequences must be considered, the level of culpability must be the key factor in sentence.

There are 34 million licensed drivers in Britain.

If a driver is proved to have driven dangerously, prison should certainly be available, perhaps with a long sentence in bad cases. But if ordinary negligence which sadly happens to lead to a death is to send yet more people to prison, the tragedy of the death will not be undone. It will simply be compounded by injustice. And injustice resulting from bad law starts to undermine the whole system.

LORD LYELL OF MARKYATE, Attorney-General, 1992-97

Copyright (C) The Times, 2006