'˜We will bring in tougher penalties for the worst cases'
COMMENTARY by Justice Minister DOMINIC RAAB
In a split second, someone’s life can be changed forever.
It could be when they are picking their kids up from school, when making their way home from a night out, or, as it did for Miriam Parker, when walking across the road at a pedestrian crossing.
Miriam, a teenager and aspiring nurse, was hit by a driver who jumped a red light in 2014.
She spent a month in intensive care, underwent five major operations and had to re-learn to walk, talk and eat. The driver received a fine and a driving ban.
This is just one example of how in a split second an irresponsible driver can cause carnage to a completely innocent person’s life.
It’s an example too of how our justice system has fallen short in providing for punishments that fit the crime.
Likewise, drivers who bring death and destruction onto our roads because they are speeding, drunk or high on drugs should face the full force of the law.
But too often, victims and their families are left feeling justice has not been done.
Too often, they watch as the defendant who was behind the wheel gets only a handful of months or years in prison or leaves the court with just a fine or a driving ban.
I have heard this anguish from victims first-hand.
That’s why last year, we put forward our proposals in a consultation to increase the powers judges have to hand down tougher sentences in these cases.
The fact that there has been such an overwhelming response — including from victims, bereaved families, road safety groups and charities — shows just how important this issue is to so many.
Today, following that consultation, we are announcing our plans, including two key changes to the law.
First, we will bring in tougher penalties for the very worst cases.
An offender who kills someone as a result of driving dangerously, or carelessly while under the influence of drink or drugs will face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Second, we will create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. This will allow judges to hand down much tougher penalties in cases like Miriam’s.
Nobody who has inflicted such horrific and life-changing injuries from behind the wheel should only face a fine or a driving ban.
This new offence will close that current gap in the law. Of course, no sentence can make up for the anguish caused from a loved one being killed or seriously injured.
However, these changes will allow families a sense that justice has been done, that the punishment fits the crime.
The tougher penalties will also act as a deterrent which can, in turn, save lives. The message will be that if you drive and destroy innocent lives, you will feel the full force of the law.
These measures are just one part of this government’s wider action to improve safety on our roads, following recent devastation caused by dangerous and irresponsible motorists and cyclists.
We must do everything we can to ensure our roads are safe for all of us who use them – and that we have the right punishments and deterrents at the disposal of our courts to achieve that.