Criminal charges brought in cases of road death incidents in the East Midlands: Implications for law reform.
thesisposted on 22.01.2009, 13:36 authored by Sally Rachel Cunningham
This thesis explores the way in which the criminal law deals with drivers who kill. Special offences exist to provide specific offence labels and punishment for drivers who cause death when driving dangerously or carelessly when under the influence of drink or drugs. However, the general homicide offence of manslaughter is also capable of providing an alternative offence label in cases involving the causing of death through gross negligence. A driver who kills might alternatively face the lesser charge of driving without due care and attention. Knowledge of the way in which these offences operate in practice in cases of road-death was previously sparse. This thesis involves an empirical study of police and Crown Prosecution Service files relating to road-deaths, in an endeavour to increase knowledge on such matters, and to inform proposals for law reform. Over three hundred road-death files were accessed across the three counties of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, in the East Midlands of England. This thesis explores the role of prosecutorial discretion in such cases, examines the difficulties faced by police and prosecutors investigating and prosecuting offences linked to road-death, and subsequently addresses the question of whether reform of the substantive law is desirable. Whilst the first six chapters deal with the practicalities of conducting the empirical research and presenting the results, the latter chapters engage in a more theoretical discussion of the importance of providing a clear and logical offence structure to this area of the law. This discussion draws on both the empirical findings of the current study and existing literature relating to the philosophy of the criminal law generally and to criminological and psychological explanations for breaches of traffic laws specifically. Ultimately, a new hierarchy of offences is proposed, requiring the abandonment of the current offences contained within the Road Traffic Act 1988.