The insanity defence in motoring offences: justice or a bizarre lapse in the law?
As the law stands, someone who is prosecuted with causing death by careless or dangerous driving may claim that they were not responsible for their actions by using the defence of insanity, in so doing citing the possibility of a medical episode at the time of the offence. They may be found not guilty and subsequently face no driving restrictions/ban.
How is this possible (you may ask yourselves) considering the perpetrator has used a suggestion that some medical ailment may have affected their ‘state of awareness’?
The answer to this is that a ‘disqualification from driving is a penalty imposed by a court’. This requires a conviction and with the insanity defence comes a special verdict of acquittal. A sanction on driving is unavailable as the accused has not been convicted, which in effect means that the court has no power to impose any restrictions on driving.
- Vivienne’s brother was killed in a head on collision when a motorist, having gone onto the nearside grass verge, changed direction and steered the car back onto the road and crossed completely onto the wrong side of the road. You can read about her story on the Justice Gap here and here.
A question was tabled in parliament by Baroness Jenny Jones, former chair of the Green Party, which read;
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to review the law relating to being found not guilty by reason of insanity of the crime of causing death by dangerous driving with a view to implementing an automatic driving ban until the defendant can show through medical evidence that they are a sane and fit person to drive. (HL3565)
28 November 2016
The answer from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon was:
Drivers are required to report any medical condition to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). DVLA has a responsibility to investigate the health of a driver on receipt of information that suggests that they may have a medical condition which affects their ability to drive safely. The DVLA will decide whether a driver should be disqualified for medical reasons. The Ministry of Justice has recently announced a consultation: Driving Offences and Penalties relating to Causing Death or Serious injury.
12 December 2016
Is this answer satisfactory? The very fact that someone can be found not guilty by reason of insanity of causing the death of someone through a suggested medical complaint yet have no sanctions applied from the court would seem preposterous would it not? Considering the fact that if someone did have such a complaint nothing prevents them from doing exactly the same thing again if they are allowed to continue driving.
To summarise then, a suggested medical ‘episode ‘ can be used successfully as a defence to secure an acquittal, but there is nothing in law , no ‘restraint’ imposed , that addresses the risk of future harm and in doing protects the public from the same thing happening again.
Does the law of the land not owe a duty of care to the public?
This article was published on April 11, 2o18