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Published 9 May 2014
The Justice Secretary has unveiled plans to amend the law to increase the powers of courts to sentence offenders who are convicted of causing death when driving whilst disqualified and causing serious injury when driving whilst disqualified.
At present the maximum sentence available for the offence of causing death when driving whilst disqualified is 2 years imprisonment. No such offence of causing serious injury when driving whilst disqualified is currently on the statute book. The increased sentences are likely to take effect from early 2015 and will enable court to impose sentences of up to 10 years in fatal cases and up to 4 years in serious injury cases.
The fact that a driver was disqualified, uninsured or unlicensed does not automatically make him guilty of the offence of causing death by driving when disqualified. In the case of R v Hughes the Supreme Court ruled that to be guilty of that offence 'there must be something open to proper criticism in the driving of the defendant beyond the mere presence of the vehicle on the road which contributed in some more than minimal way to the death'.
In 2012 there were 16 prosecutions for the offence of causing death whilst driving when disqualified unlicensed or uninsured.
Whilst it may seem that this offence is unlikely to affect insurers, there may be occasions where drivers are unaware of a disqualification (for example if they have been convicted and sentenced in their absence), or where there has been a misunderstanding regarding when a driving disqualification ended. In those circumstances insurers may find themselves dealing with such cases and notwithstanding that inaccurate information may have been given when the policy was taken out, there may be value in providing legal assistance to the driver, particularly in high value claims.
The increase in sentencing powers and new offence demonstrates the Government's intention to continue to legislate in the area of motor crime generally and in particular motor homicide and serious injury, following on from the introduction of the offence of causing serious injury be dangerous driving in December 2012, and more recently the consultation in relation to the offence of driving whilst under the influence of prescribed drugs. Insurers may increasingly experience demand from policyholders for legal advice in the area of motor prosecutions, particularly in light of changes in funding of representation of defendant in criminal proceedings, which can mean that some drivers are not entitled to Legal Aid to defend such proceedings.
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