If you or a family member is facing an allegation arising from a fatal collision, we expect you may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of being the subject of court proceedings and a possible prison term at the end of it. Recognising that offences of this severity require a different approach to the more common motoring offences, our specialist team at JS Miller Solicitors are on hand to advise and support anyone in this unenviable situation.
What is the definition of the offence?
The offence of causing death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured is defined in 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988. You could be convicted of the offence if the Crown can prove that you caused the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road and, at the time of driving, one of the following offences was committed:
- section 87(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence);
- section 103(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (driving while disqualified); or
- section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (using motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks).
What are the consequences if I am convicted?
This is a “triable either way” offence. This means that it could be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. The minimum penalty that can be imposed is a community order which usually consists of an unpaid work requirement. The offence also carries a mandatory minimum driving disqualification of 12 months with a possible retest to regain your licence.
What are my options?
Defending the case
Prosecutions of this type will often begin with an arrest followed by an interview at an agreed time.
It is vital that if the police want to interview you, that you have legal representation. In our experience the police may want to bolster the evidence they have or influence you to implicate yourself if certain aspects of the case against you are weak. Geoffrey Miller Solicitors have had enormous success at ensuring some cases don’t get past this initial stage by our expert strategic advice at the police station stage.
If you are charged, our specialist team of lawyers will review the strength of the prosecution’s case against you before advising you of the merits of defending your case or if it would be appropriate to enter an early guilty plea to the charge.
It is very difficult to defend offences when it is alleged that you were uninsured or driving without a licence. The reason for this is that these offences are considered “strict liability” offences in that there is no room for interpretation or opinion on the subject. You either had a valid licence or you didn’t have one. There are no technical defences that can be advanced in relation to this element of the offence. The only factual defence that you could advance would be if you did in fact have a valid licence and you were charged incorrectly.
However, whilst you may have been un-licenced and you may have been involved in a fatal collision, this does not prevent you from disputing that you “caused” the collision.
In order for the Crown to prove the offence as a whole, they are required to prove that the accident was caused by you. It is not sufficient for them to simply prove that you were driving without a valid licence.
Credit for an early guilty plea
You will be afforded “credit” for entering a guilty plea at an early stage in proceedings. The earlier the guilty plea is entered, the more credit you will be afforded.
This principle recognises that a guilty plea (depending on the timing) avoids the need for a trial, saves the witnesses and the victim from having to give evidence, reduces the cost to the public of dealing with the case and shortens the time between charge and sentence. Courts are now required to take into account the stage of proceedings at which a defendant indicates the intention to plead guilty and the circumstances in which the indication was given. The Sentencing Guidelines Council (‘SGC’) has issued guidance on the level of reduction in sentence for a guilty plea, and courts must have regard to it. If the punishment is less severe as a result, the judge or magistrates must say so. The court should also usually state what the sentence would have been if there had been no reduction. The level of the reduction in sentence should be gauged on a sliding scale, ranging from a maximum of:
- One third, where the guilty plea was entered at the first reasonable opportunity (see below); to
- One quarter, where a trial date has been set; to
- One tenth, for a plea entered ‘at the door to the court’ or after the trial has begun. Should you decide to change your plea to “guilty” after entering a plea of Not Guilty then your credit may be reduced. Provided that this is done within a few weeks of the first hearing you can quite properly ask for a reduction in sentence of one quarter. This represents a difference of 8.3% from the full reduction that you could have claimed at the initial hearing.
The length of your driving disqualification will not be affected by any credit applied.
What the Court will consider prior to sentencing
If you decide to plead guilty to, or are convicted of the offence after a trial, the Court will have to take into account several factors before deciding on what sentence to impose.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be “aggravating factors” which may count against you when the Court comes to consider the most appropriate sentence. Examples of aggravating factors are as follows:
- Previous convictions for motoring offences, either involving the manner of driving or involving driving while disqualified, unlicensed or uninsured;
- Causing the death of more than one person;
- Serious injury caused to others, in addition to any death caused; or
- Irresponsible behaviour (failing to stop or falsely claiming that someone else was driving).
The Court will counterbalance any of the above factors against any “mitigating” factors that may count in your favour. Examples of mitigating factors can include:
- The decision to drive was brought about by a proven and genuine emergency falling short of a defence;
- Suspect believed he or she was insured or licensed to drive;
- Serious injury to the suspect as a result of the collision;
- The deceased was a close friend or relative of the driver; or
- Personal mitigation such as a good driving record, conduct after the offence (providing assistance at the scene, showing remorse).
Other frequently asked questions
I am frightened of going to prison- can you prevent this?
The likelihood of a custodial term will depend on a number of factors, namely:
- The standard of your driving;
- The reason why you did not have a licence. The penalty will be much more severe if you caused the collision and were driving whilst disqualified than it would be if you were driving whilst unlicensed or uninsured.
- The relevant mitigating/aggravating factors listed above; and
- Your own personal circumstances
When represented by the JS Miller team our primary objective is to ensure that you are as well prepared as can be for your sentencing hearing. In addition to advising, guiding and supporting you through this process, we collaborate with the best specialist motoring advocates in the UK to present your mitigation in the most persuasive terms. This often makes a significant difference when it comes to the Court making its final decision on sentencing.
What if the collision was only partly my fault?
In so many traffic incidents or accidents the actions of both parties can be a factor. We speak to many clients who tell us that another party involved acted in some way that contributed to the incident. If the incident was solely the fault of the other party, we would advise you to plead NOT GUILTY and have the court hear all of the evidence. However, if the incident was in part caused by you, even if someone else contributed, the court can still find you guilty for your part.
Will I have to re take my driving test?
The Court have a discretion to order you to retake your driving test at the end of your period of disqualification. They also have the power to order an extended retest where you would be required to sit a retest which is longer than a standard driving test, lasting approx. 70 minutes and is more demanding. The Court are not required to make such an order and they will not do so in every case.