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‘Careless’ motorists facing prison for the first time will add to court backlog
Market Insight 29 December 2021 29 December 2021
Insurance 2022 - the year ahead
With the court system already mired in delays, the potential of jail terms for careless driving will exacerbate the situation.
While motorists have always faced a prison sentence for the offences of causing serious injury or death by dangerous driving, new legislation which could become law as early as spring 2022 could see prison sentences for drivers who are prosecuted for careless driving, for the first time.
The offence of careless driving is committed when a motorist’s driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver as defined by the Road Traffic Accident Act 1988. Dangerous driving falls ‘far below’ that same objective standard. The government is bringing forward a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, as their consultation has concluded that no current offence adequately punishes the serious and potentially permanent and life changing injuries that can result from careless driving.
With the court system already mired in delays and backlogs built up during lockdown, the added complication of potential prison sentences for what was previously seen as a minor crime can only exacerbate the situation. Add prison overcrowding into the mix and the situation becomes more convoluted.
The reality is that many people charged with careless driving will wait years to have their cases heard in court. That wait will be particularly daunting bearing in mind a prison sentence could wait at the end of it.
Key facts regarding the court backlog of cases recently published by the National Audit Office show that at the end of June 2021, there were 60,692 outstanding in the Crown Court, a 48% percentage increase in the Crown Court backlog between 31 March 2020 and 30 June 2021. It also marks a 302% increase in the number of cases waiting longer than a year in the Crown Court, from 2,830 as of 31 March 2020 to 11,379 as of 30 June 2021.
The new offence is being introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently progressing at Westminster. Now being considered by the House of Lords, the bill could complete its legislative passage in early 2022 and come into force the same year.