Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing)

(1st reading: House of Commons)
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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20 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment; and for connected purposes.

Death by dangerous driving is an all too familiar phrase, yet I wonder how many people, when they hear that phrase, think about the tragedy and devastation of lives that lies behind it. In 2015, my 19-year-old constituent Bryony Hollands died at the hands of a dangerous driver—a driver under the influence of drink and drugs. He was sentenced to eight years and served just four years in jail. In July 2018, my constituent Ciara Lee’s husband Eddy was killed on the M4. The driver responsible was sentenced to just 22 months and is already out on licence. In December 2019, a driver under the influence of drugs hit and killed 13-year-old Max Simmonds in my constituency. The judge described the defendant’s driving record as “nothing less than appalling”, indicating an

“utterly selfish and thoughtless attitude to other drivers”.

I am sure that the majority of Members of this House —indeed, possibly every one of them—have a story to tell of death by dangerous driving in their constituency, and many of those events will have left loved ones feeling that justice has not been done. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) was telling me about a case in his constituency just last night, and there will be other cases across the country—cases like that of Violet-Grace, told to me by the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer). Violet-Grace Youens was four years old when she tragically died. A car being driven recklessly mounted the pavement and struck her and her grandmother. The driver left the scene, running past Violet-Grace and her grandmother as they lay injured on the ground. When he was eventually apprehended, he was sentenced to nine years and four months. Becky Youens sadly remarked that he will serve less time in prison than Violet-Grace was alive. Bryony Hollands’s father, my constituent Mark Hollands, has campaigned since her death for the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to be increased from 14 years to life. The Youens family has campaigned for the same, as have many others. All feel that justice is currently, in many cases, not being done.

When I was Prime Minister, the Government listened to those concerns. We consulted on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury. That consultation found considerable support for increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving: 70% of respondents thought the maximum sentence should be increased from the present 14 years to life. My Government committed to introducing that change in the sentencing Bill. For various reasons, which I will not go into today, that Bill was delayed under my premiership and was not brought forward before I stepped down as Prime Minister. However, the current Government are also committed to a sentencing Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary has indicated in this Chamber that he supports the change in sentencing, yet the sentencing Bill has not yet been introduced and the change has not yet been made.

This Bill, the Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill, is simple. It amends the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment. It fulfils the commitment I gave, it fulfils the commitment my Government gave and it fulfils the commitment this Government have given. It has cross-party support, and it does the Government’s work for them. The Bill responds to a genuine concern that the severity of the offence is not always reflected in current sentencing, because of the limitations on the sentence that currently exist. It does not try to introduce an eye-for-an-eye type of justice system. What it does is ensure justice for victims and their families. As Mark Hollands said:

“The whole campaign is not that there’s automatic life sentencing or anything like it, but it’s available for judges when you get cases of people who persistently drive at speed.”

That is the key point. Judges today do their best to reflect the severity of the offence in sentencing, but their options are limited. Under this Bill, judges will still retain discretion as to what length of sentence is appropriate, but the measure in the Bill will give them greater scope and enable them to issue more severe sentences than is currently possible.

No sentence can make up for the tragic loss of a loved one—a life cut short, a future obliterated, a family devastated—but the sentence can enable those left behind to feel that justice has been done. Today, in too many cases, they feel that justice has not been done. This reform to sentencing has been promised by the Government. Families who have lost loved ones have consistently been told that the reform will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. It may be difficult to find parliamentary time for a full sentencing Bill, but this Bill is short, specific and targeted. As I said before, the Bill does the Government’s work for them. The parliamentary time is now. Dangerous driving costs lives. For the victims’ families, the pain of their loss can be with them for the rest of their lives. I hope that the Government and hon. Members from across this House will join me, put this Bill on the statute book, and help victims and their families achieve justice.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mrs Theresa May, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Karen Bradley, Sir Graham Brady, Steve Brine, Gareth Johnson, Judith Cummins, Ms Marie Rimmer, Stephanie Peacock, Dan Jarvis and Chris Skidmore present the Bill.

Mrs Theresa May accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 167).