Debate on Penalties for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving (September 2016)

Claire Perry’s Constituents, Major Richard and Mrs Angela Gilbey lost their son James last year when he was killed while using a pedestrian crossing on the Stanningley by-pass near Leeds.  James was hit by a car driven by Majid Malik who was racing his friend Kaiz Mahmood through the streets of Leeds that evening, travelling up to 90 mph in a 40mph zone.  Malik stopped briefly after the collision but apparently only to try and retrieve his number plate. He then hid his car, burned his clothes and disappeared for three days.

The drivers were charged with causing death by dangerous driving, with the offence ranked as the most serious (Level 1) offence, which carries a maximum custody sentence of fourteen years. However they only received an eight-year prison sentence, which is automatically cut to four years under current guidelines.  This punishment was so lenient that James’ family had to witness the defendants and their families celebrating in the courtroom when the terms of imprisonment were read out.  

James’ family are not alone in feeling that this punishment does not fit the crime.  According to BRAKE, the road safety charity, only a third of those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving are given prison sentences of more than five years and the maximum sentence is almost never given to those convicted.

While courts can try these crimes as manslaughter, only a handful have been tried in this way over the last few years.  It is hard to see how the actions of Mr. Malik do not fit perfectly the definition of involuntary manslaughter – while Malik did not set out to kill, his grossly negligent and unlawful driving caused James’ death.  Where a life is taken by such grossly unlawful and negligent behaviour the courts should be able to impose a life sentence.  

Many other MPs have similar concerns over the apparent leniency of sentencing for such callous, negligent and reckless driving that has caused death of so many loved ones.  That is why Claire Perry, the MP for the Devizes Constituency, called a debate to press for changes in sentencing.

In the debate, Claire asked the Dept. of Justice Ministers for three things:

  1. The worst cases of death by dangerous driving to be tried as manslaughter for which the current prison sentence is up to life, or to include a life sentence as the maximum penalty for Level 1 offences.
  2. The government to urgently complete the review of guidelines for sentencing in this area, promised in 2014, to ensure that there are fewer loopholes in the law that reduce current prison sentences.
  3. To end the offer of an automatic reduction in sentence for a guilty plea or automatic release on licence for Level 1 offences.  These reductions should be at the discretion of the courts.

Ahead of the debate, Claire Perry said:  

“It is clear that for the worst cases of causing death by dangerous driving the punishment does not currently fit the crime.   We want to see: more defendants tried for manslaughter, Courts able to set a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for Level 1 offences; new sentencing guidelines that ensure tougher existing penalties are used more often and an end to automatic discounts for guilty pleas or automatic release on licence.  The families of the men who killed James Gilbey were so pleased with the short sentences awarded that they celebrated in court. For my Constituents, Major Richard and Angela Gilbey the loss of their son is a life sentence that must be endured every day.  This cannot go on.”