Jailed killer drivers will not be able to serve their driving bans while in prison under new laws to be brought forward by the Government, victims minister Mike Penning has announced – but one prisons expert has said it amounts to double punishment.
Mr Penning said he found it completely perverse that dangerous drivers who cause deaths can be banned from the roads by a judge but then serve out the ban as they serve out their prison sentence for the offence.
The minister told a Westminster Hall debate the law will be changed to stop such a situation happening without the need to consult an ongoing review of driving offences.
He said: “I find it completely perverse that while, and I use the word in brackets, a ‘gentleman’ is serving his sentence, the driving ban that he was given in court runs while he’s actually in prison.
“I’ve never understood that piece of legislation, how that works, and that will change without the review and we will stop that so that it starts actually when they come out.”
Tory Alok Sharma (Reading West), opening the debate, called for a change in the law to ensure dangerous drivers are subject to a maximum 14-year jail sentence for each person they kill.
Raising a case from his constituency, where dangerous driver Alexander Walter was jailed for 10 years and three months for killing 30-year-old John Morland and 39-year-old Kris Jarvis, Mr Sharma said the punishment did not fit the crime.
Walter pleaded guilty to seven offences at Reading Crown Court which also included aggravated vehicle-taking, driving while disqualified and driving while uninsured and he was found to be nearly two-and-a-half times the legal alcohol limit while driving.
The offender also had 67 previous convictions and had been disqualified from driving for four years in 2010.
Seven children were left fatherless due to Walter’s actions on February 13 this year and the fiancees of the victims have launched a petition, which has garnered nearly 25,000 signatures. to ensure dangerous drivers receive a maximum of 14 years in jail for each victim.
The sentences would also run consecutively rather than concurrently, meaning someone who killed two people could spend 28 years in jail.
Mr Sharma said: “The reality is that I do not believe that 10 years was enough for what Walter did, the families don’t believe it and so far 25,000 people across our land do not believe it and you are hearing in this House as well that members of Parliament representing millions of people across our country don’t believe that that was right.
“I would like us to sign this petition, I want it to influence the review that is ongoing, and I want us to bring about a change in the law.”
He went on: “Do you understand the strength of feeling there is in the country about this issue?
“Do you understand that what we want as members of Parliament, what we want as members of the public, what we want as families who are affected by these tragedies is to put victims first?
“And do you have sympathy for the aims of this petition?
“I want justice for John and Kris, and their families want justice for John and Kris.
“My honourable friends here in this House want justice for the families of their constituents who have been affected.
“The reality is the punishment when it comes to dangerous driving must fit the crime and it’s high time we had a change in the law.”
Mr Penning said he could not pre-empt the review launched by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling but agreed that the Government needs to look “very carefully” at whether the punishment fits the crime.
The minister said the review would look at the issue of intent, and whether driving drunk, without insurance and without a licence, for example, was different from intending to kill someone in another way.
Mr Penning stressed that the review wanted to hear extensively from the families of victims.
He said: “The review is a massively important review, I believe, because it will look at, not so much the offences, but what the penalties should be.
“I agree with the comments and I’m not going to pre-empt the review but I actually agree that we need to look very carefully as to whether the punishment fits the crime.
“And the difference between driving a car and killing somebody, drunk, without insurance, without a licence, without all those things that we know that you should have – the intent to do that and the intent around killing a person in any other way.
“That will be part of the review.”
However Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national prisons newspaper (www.prisons.org.uk) said it would amount to double punishment.
Mr Leech said: “Look if you want to rehabilitate people when you send them to prison, so they can work once they get out having paid their debt to society, then this double punishment is just ludicrous.
“Either ban someone or send them to jail but to do both, and make them consecutive, is yet more pre-election hijacking of our criminal justice system.”