Not Saussure

January 30, 2007

Crime and punishment

Filed under: Law, UK — notsaussure @ 11:19 am

Via The Magistrate’s Blog.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council is seeking the views of the public as part of a consultation exercise on appropriate sentences for drivers who cause death. The consultation is prompted partly by the fact that Parliament has increased the maxmumi sentence — which is normally, though not inevitably, a signal to increase all sentences for an offence pro rata — for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and partly by the fact two completely new offences have been created, causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving and causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured driver.

The problem with this sort of offence, of course, is that the harm actually caused — death — is extreme but the offender’s culpability may range from very grave (e.g. driving extremely recklessly while drunk) to something far more minor — momentary carelessness or inattention caused by inexperience or unfamiliar road conditions, perhaps, or a sudden distraction inside the car.

Anyway, the Sentencing Guidelines Council has published a Consultation paper on causing death by driving offences, on which it would welcome written responses from the public by 19th April.

On the topic of sentencing in general, people might be interested (also via Bystander JP, from an earlier post) in two thoughtful speeches by Sir Igor Judge on sentencing; Sir Igor is a very senior member of the judiciary whose speeches are always, as Bystander says, carefully reasoned and calmly argued and, consequently, of no appeal to the popular press.

There’s one here, delivered last November, on sentencing and public protection, and one from the previous November on The Sentencing Decision, which particularly addresses sentencing and the public perception of crime. These both, I think, give a very valuable insight into the complexities of this aspect of the judge’s job, balancing, as he must, the various demands of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation in an attempt to protect the public.

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  1. Seems to me that a major problem with sentencing is the lack of credible non-prison punishments that are not seen as “getting off lightly”. Predictably, judges are reluctant to give people who take risks when driving (and whose main faults might be stupidity and lack of imagination) the same sort of sentences as they give to muggers and robbers.

    For example, a chap called Donald Pearce has just been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for killing a cyclist. He had missed a lot of sleep when flying home from Turkey, so might well have been asleep at the wheel. The cyclists’ organisation CTC is predictably saying that the sentence is not long enough. But despite being a cyclist myself, so at risk from this sort of behaviour, I still wonder whether he should be in prison at all. If after this experience he remains a danger to others, he will still be one after 5 years, unless he is reformed by prison – which from what we hear about UK prisons at the moment, seems unlikely. And if he is not a long-term criminal but merely criminally careless and stupid, surely we could invent a more useful and less expensive alternative to prison, that would still be a severe enough punishment to act as a deterrent to others.

    Comment by Tode — January 30, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  2. These death by driving offences must often be horribly difficult to sentence, because of the mismatch between the standard of culpability and the outcome. The sentence of Donald Pearce seems pretty standard for the circumstances — he somehow drove into a layby, apparently because of lack of sleep (which counts as a highly aggravating circumstance, as bad as driving while drunk, on the grounds it’s easily avoidable) and he denied the offence.

    It seems stiff for being, as you put it, careless and stupid, but, on the other hand, he did kill someone and, if we adopt your suggestion of a non-custodial sentence, what do we do to the driver who, through tiredness, swerves into a layby where, mercifully, there doesn’t happen to be a luckless cyclist (or there is one, but he escapes with a broken leg)?

    It’s because this is such a difficult area in which to sentence the Sentencing Guidelines Council are canvassing opinion. It’ll get even more difficult with this new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving; you can see why people are outraged when someone they love is killed and the driver walks away with a fine and some penalty points, but, on the other hand, we’re going to end up imprisoning people for what’re essentially accidents caused by the sort of momentary lapse of standards of which most drivers are guilty most days.

    Comment by notsaussure — January 30, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  3. I knew of a situation with a pedestrian and it was a dark night and he was drunk and wearing black and couldn’t be seen. And the guy I was with was a good driver. What to do?

    Comment by james higham — January 30, 2007 @ 8:15 pm

  4. I’d like to think that most Magistrates have enough common sense to pick the appropriate punishment within a wide range of sanctions but I get the impression from the handful of Magistrates I have met that the guidelines are getting more and more prescriptive.

    Comment by Ian Grey — January 30, 2007 @ 8:16 pm

  5. […] Filed under: Law — notsaussure @ 12:09 am I’ve blogged before about the new offence of Causing Death by Careless, or Inconsiderate — as opposed to […]

    Pingback by Careless driving « Not Saussure — February 24, 2007 @ 12:14 am

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