On 28 June 2022, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving was increased from 14 years imprisonment to life imprisonment.
The Sentencing Council is currently considering a revision to its sentencing guideline to reflect this change. Until that work is complete, there is an understandable confusion as to what level of uplift is required, if any.
In two otherwise unrelated cases, the Court of Appeal has addressed this problem and issued guidance to judges to assist them in arriving at the proper sentence for offences committed on or after 28 June.
The Court gave the following general steer:
- Sentences for the most serious cases of causing death by dangerous driving must be increased from the levels indicated in Level 1 of the current guideline because offences in Level 1 by definition are the most serious offences.
- Sentences for the lower levels of offending should not be increased. It may be that the Council will decide that some increase will be appropriate. That decision will only be taken after full consultation about the effect of any such increase. It is not a matter for this Court to consider given the advanced stage of the Council’s work on the new guideline.
- It also will be for the Sentencing Council to determine the appropriate starting point for the most serious cases. It is not for us to re-set the starting point in the current guideline. Judges who sentence cases of causing death by dangerous driving before the Sentencing Council issues a new guideline will use the starting point in the current guideline and adjust the sentence to take account of the increase in the maximum sentence.
- Even where the case falls within Level 1 and the offence was committed after 28 June 2022, the sentencing judge must make their own assessment of the seriousness of the offence and the culpability of the offender. The increase in the maximum sentence requires the judge to determine whether the interests of justice require a sentence outside the category range for Level 1 offences. That cannot be a mathematical exercise.
- Whatever decision is made by the sentencing judge in an individual case, there must be consideration of the issue of proportionality.
Whilst the Court was forced to address the issues presented by a change in the maximum penalty, there is little practical assistance being offered to judges, no doubt in part because to be more prescriptive would step into the shoes of the Sentencing Council.
Before any new guideline comes into force, we will carefully review all sentences concerning this offence and consider whether any uplift applied should be appealed.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819