HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc675-6
57. Mr. Allen

To ask the Attorney-General what representations he has had on prosecution policy relating to deaths caused by car drivers; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

Representations have been made to me by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and on behalf of the campaign against drinking and driving.

Mr. Allen

I thank the Attorney-General for that reply, and I also thank his staff for the sympathetic way in which they have handled the case with which, as the Attorney-General is aware, I am involved. Is he aware that there is a great legislative gap between death caused by reckless driving and driving without due care and attention? Is he also aware that the North committee on road traffic laws has reported to the Government on that omission? When does he believe that the Government will bring forward proposals to fill that gap, so that tragedies such as that which befell my constitutents, whose small daughter was killed by careless driving, may be remedied?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I express my thanks to him for the whole tenor of his approach to this sensitive and difficult matter, which causes much sadness and distress to the relatives of people killed in road accidents. The hon. Gentleman rightly identifies the difference between reckless and careless driving. He knows that an offence of causing death by driving is an offence only where recklessness can be shown. He knows also that the prosecution service must be satisfied that there is a proper case.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the recommendation of the North committee that there should be an offence of causing death by bad driving while under the influence of alcohol. He will know that the decision to introduce that is for my right hon. Friends, not for me, but they will heed what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the depth of feeling that exists, not only in families, but in constituencies countrywide, about the small sentences of fines and totting-up points imposed upon people who while under the influence of drink, have killed ordinary citizens. The depth of feeling is strong and the Government will have to do something about it. Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the Crown Prosecution Service is accepting fewer pleas of guilty to careless driving in such circumstances? Is he satisfied also that the North recommendation to uprate charges from careless driving to reckless driving in such a situation will be adequate to satisfy public demand?

The Attorney-General

I understand the depth of feeling that there is in the country, and I have said what I think I can sensibly say about the recommendation of the North committee. The judiciary must be responsible for deciding what penalties it shall impose out of the range that is made available by Parliament. However, my hon. and learned Friend will remember the guidelines laid down by the Lord Chief Justice regarding death caused through driving. I believe that sooner or later we shall arrive at a scale and practice that will meet the proper anxieties of all our constituents.

Mr. Fraser

Is the Attorney-General aware that a prosecution can pass without the family of the victim knowing what has happened? I have come across cases where the trial has been taking place on a plea of guilty without the family knowing about it. Will he ensure that the families of victims receive more consideration? When it is a borderline matter of whether to prosecute for careless driving or causing death by reckless driving, although the decision must rest with the prosecuting authorities, will they consult the families of the victims before coming to a conclusion?

The Attorney-General

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman has said. Of course, primarily it is the responsibility of the police to notify the families of victims of the outcome of prosecuting decisions and of cases. The Director of Public Prosecutions is alive to the need to treat this issue sensitively. Accordingly, local offices of the CPS will, on request, inform relatives of victims of the basis on which a decision was taken. The CPS is prepared also to offer the opportunity of a meeting with a senior member of the CPS staff. I cannot agree with the suggestion that the question whether to prosecute should rest with the opinion. of the relatives.