Supreme Court ruling undermines law holding unlicensed drivers responsible in the case of fatal car accidents

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that police were incorrect to bring charges against driver Michael Hughes after he was found to have been driving without a licence in an uninsured Mercedes camper van when his vehicle was hit by a Honda Civic driven by James Dickinson, who later died as a result.

The judgment undermines the offence introduced by the Labour government in 2006, under which a person is guilty of an offence if he causes the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road while disqualified or while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks. Following his death, Mr Dickinson was found to have taken heroin in the hours before the fatal incident and was driving down the wrong side of the road when he collided with Mr Hughes – a “fautless” driver. 

John Donkin, Senior Partner at QualitySolicitors John Donkin, who acted for the defendant in the case, responds to the Supreme Court’s ruling: 

“The implementation of this offence and the manner in which it was being prosecuted, caused significant concern. Crown Prosecution Service policy and guidance had been based on the offence not requiring any fault in the standard of driving but the culpability arising from the driver being on the road or other public place, without either insurance or an appropriate driving licence, or whilst disqualified from driving.

“This potentially made a driver guilty of homicide, even when there could be no criticism whatsoever of the manner of their driving and where there had been no positive act or omission other than being on the road or in a public place in a vehicle. By way of common example, a driver may be driving uninsured under the misapprehension that they are indeed insured. This could have then led to the aggravated offence being committed, if a death then resulted from a collision in which they were involved and their driving was faultless, or they were in fact even stationary. 

“In this case, the recorder of Newcastle originally ruled that Mr Hughes could not have been said to have caused the death, and from this ruling the Crown prosecution appealed the case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the Prosecution and we then sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr Hughes. 

“Mr Hughes is relieved that the case has finally been resolved over three years after the original ruling in the Crown Court, and that he is not considered to have been criminally responsible for the tragic loss of life. 

“This judgment now leaves very little scope for individuals to be prosecuted under section 3ZB, as there must be an element of fault in the driving. If there is an element of fault in the driving and a death occurs, then the appropriate charge is likely to be one of causing death by careless driving or a more serious offence. I consider that the law in this regard has been restored to a far more satisfactory position.” 

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