New driving offence `to fill gap'

 

A new offence of careless driving causing death is needed to fill a gap in legislation governing driving offences, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr James Hamilton was speaking to journalists at the publication of the DPP's annual report for 1999. He was discussing how decisions to prosecute were made in road-traffic cases.

Mr Hamilton stressed that he could not discuss individual cases but outlined some general considerations in decisions not to prosecute.

In relation to road accidents he said that, where a person died, the death might remove the main witness of the accident. "It boils down to having the evidence. A judgment has to be made every time," he said.

The office sometimes brought charges of manslaughter arising out of fatal accidents, he said. The next most serious charge was dangerous driving causing death, followed by careless driving. There was no distinction in the legislation between instances where this caused a fatality and where it did not.

"There is a gap in the law," he said. "Relatives can be very upset if a person dies and a charge of driving without due care and attention is brought. A charge of careless driving causing death will fill that gap."

The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death is 10 years' imprisonment, while that for careless driving is three months. The sentence for careless driving causing death would be between those two.

Mr Hamilton also outlined a survey of sex-offence files carried out by his office. This showed prosecutions were brought in 56 per cent of cases where files were received. In almost half the cases where no charge was brought it was because there was insufficient evidence.

Other reasons for not prosecuting in sex-offence cases were where the injured party withdrew the complaint or refused to make a statement; where a child's parents refused to allow the child to give evidence; or where the injured party was too young, and where the culprit was cautioned.

The DPP made 31 applications for a review of unduly lenient sentences in 1999, according to the report. Five sentences were increased and two were upheld. The rest were still pending at the end of the year.

Mr Hamilton said consultations were taking place with the judiciary about whether the DPP should break with current practice and indicate whether and when he considered a custodial sentence appropriate.

Referring to statistics for the year, he pointed out that 92 per cent of the prosecutions brought to completion in 1999 ended in convictions. About half of all prosecutions are brought in the Dublin area.

There was a 3.6 per cent increase in the number of cases brought between 1998 and 1999.

Counsel fees increased by about one-third that year, from £5.5 million in 1998 to £8.1 million in 1999.