The Scottish Sentencing Council has finalised its first ever offence guideline, covering the statutory offences of causing death by driving.
Subject to approval by the High Court, it will be the first guideline of its kind in Scotland, marking an important development for both the Council and Scotland’s criminal justice system.
The guideline aims to bring greater consistency in sentencing and assist public understanding of how these highly complex and sensitive cases are dealt with by the courts.
Following a public consultation on a draft version, the final guideline has been strengthened in a number of key areas:
- aggressive driving has been added to the highest sentencing range for death by dangerous driving offences, putting it on the same level as racing – both involve a disregard for the danger caused to others and a very high level of blame
- some sentencing ranges for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving and causing death by driving while uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified have been increased
- the victim being a vulnerable road user (such as a cyclist), or the offence taking place during a police chase, have been added as aggravating factors – likely to result in more severe sentencing
- driver inexperience has also been removed from the list of mitigating factors for all offences apart from causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving.
The Council has today (Thurs) published its report on the consultation, alongside an independent analysis of the responses.
The guideline sets out sentencing ranges to help judges decide an appropriate sentence.
The ranges, which reach up to 12 years’ imprisonment for the most serious death by dangerous driving offences, are based on current sentencing practice and reflect the upper limits of sentences which have been imposed by Scottish courts.
The offences covered by the guideline are:
- causing death by dangerous driving
- causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs
- causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving
- causing death by driving while unlicensed, uninsured, or disqualified
The guideline will be submitted to the High Court for approval in the coming weeks.
Chair of the Council, Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, said: “Causing death by driving offences are among the most serious, complex, and sensitive cases dealt with by our courts. Although relatively uncommon, they are of significant public concern and have a devastating effect on the families of victims.
“While nothing can make up for the tragic loss of life involved, we believe that a sentencing guideline will provide clarity for bereaved families and others affected by death by driving cases.
“It will assist judges in the difficult task of deciding on a sentence and help to increase public understanding and awareness of the law and sentencing practice in relation to death by driving offences.
“Following the consultation process, the guideline has been strengthened in a number of areas such as the inclusion of aggressive driving in the highest level of seriousness for death by dangerous driving offences.
“A number of factors have also been added to the list of aggravations, while sentencing ranges have increased for certain offences.
“I am extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to consider the guideline and respond to the consultation. The feedback we received, and the wider research undertaken by the Council, has been vital in ensuring that the guideline is fit for purpose.”
In addition to the consultation, the guideline has been shaped by extensive research and engagement work carried out by the Council.
The research included a public perceptions study involving the families of victims, a literature review examining the available evidence on sentencing in death by driving cases, and a national survey involving over 1,000 participants which explored public attitudes to sentencing in Scotland.
The national survey included a scenario on causing death by dangerous driving, in which most participants selected a more lenient sentence than probable sentencing practice in court, indicating that public attitudes to sentencing are more nuanced when explored in detail, and more in line with the sentences courts actually impose.