One of the functions of the Scottish Sentencing Council is to develop and publish sentencing guidelines. These guidelines provide an essential framework for sentencing in Scottish courts and help the public better understand how judges arrive at sentencing decisions. All guidelines drawn up by the council must be approved by the High Court of Justice before coming into force.
As the council enters a new phase of its work, we have launched a consultation on Scotland’s first sentencing guideline for a specific offence. It covers legal offenses causing death by driving: causing death by dangerous driving; causing death by reckless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; causing death by reckless or reckless driving; and causing death while driving: unlicensed, uninsured or disqualified drivers.
Sentencing is an important part of the judicial process and, having spent the past two decades working in the High Court conducting criminal trials and appeals, I believe that a guideline covering death-in-court offenses steering wheel will greatly assist judges in making what, at times, can be difficult decisions.
The offenses covered by the draft guidelines are very serious in nature and can have a devastating effect on the families of victims and others affected by the offence.
Driving offenses are often among the most emotional and complex dealt with by our courts, with factors relating to the harm caused – someone’s death – and the level of guilt or blame of the offender varying widely from one case to another.
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For offenses related to death at the wheel, the level of harm (death) is set by law. Therefore, when determining the different levels of seriousness, the judge will focus on the culpability of the offender.
This can be particularly difficult when convicting reckless or reckless driving offenses where there may be a significant difference between guilt and harm caused.
For example, a judge may need to consider both the fact that there has been a death and that the offender may be a driver with a clean driving record and no previous convictions, who was momentarily inattentive.
This guideline will help judges make these difficult assessments, increase sentencing consistency across Scotland and provide a clearer understanding to all involved of how sentencing decisions are made.
In order to make the draft guideline as concise, accessible and easy to understand as possible for the courts and the public, the Scottish Sentencing Council has carefully considered its structure.
The draft dead driving guidelines provide a set of three steps for each of the offences. A table in the first stage (or two tables for offenses causing death by reckless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) lists the characteristics to be considered in the case according to their level of seriousness (A, B or C). A table in step two shows the sentencing ranges for each level of seriousness. A table in stage three lists factors that can aggravate (increase) or lessen (reduce) the severity. In some cases, this may move the title phrase outside of the selected range in the second table.
For example, with respect to causing death by dangerous driving, severity level A would include prolonged and deliberate misconduct without regard to the danger caused to others; Level B would include conduct that created a substantial risk of harm to others; and Level C would include a single dangerous maneuver that created a significant risk of danger to others.
The table in Step Two provides sentencing ranges for causing death by dangerous driving to seven to 12 years imprisonment at Level A; four to seven years imprisonment at level B; and two to five years imprisonment at C level.
The table in step three lists factors that can aggravate or lessen the seriousness of the offence, such as whether the offender has a previous conviction (aggravating factor) or already has a good driving record (mitigating factor). ).
In drafting this guideline – and indeed all of our guidelines – the Scottish Sentencing Council conducted research and engaged extensively with justice organizations and interested groups. Indeed, we aim to make all of our guidelines useful and informative. Each directive will become part of the Scottish criminal justice system and will have real effects on people involved in criminal cases. It is important that we do what is necessary to correct them.
As such, we are now seeking your feedback on our draft death-by-driving guidance to ensure it is fit for purpose. This guideline will serve as a model for the structure and approach of future council guidelines on offenses, so it is essential that we hear a wide range of views. We will carefully consider every response we receive before finalizing the guideline and I urge anyone interested to participate.
A consultation document is available on the council website, as well as the draft guideline and a draft impact assessment. The consultation document provides the background for the draft guideline, explains the rationale for the approach taken and asks a number of questions to gather opinions. The consultation will be open until Tuesday 22 November.