Fiona Mactaggart MP, Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, Keynote speech
- Fiona Mactaggart opened her speech by discussing the Government’s strategy for reducing road casualties in Britain. She remarked that good progress was being made in attaining the Government target of reducing KSIs by 2010, but she also said that, considering nine people are killed every day on UK roads, there is a lot more that needs to be done.
- It is also important to help families of road crash victims deal with the massive impact such a trauma will have on their lives.
- What can the Government do to achieve these two main aims?
- Education - teach people about the dangers of using the roads and how they can become more dangerous through, for example, drink-driving.
- Enforcement - it is important to dispel the common media depiction of speed cameras simply as a stealth tax. Education needs to supplement the speed cameras by including information about why it is so important to slow down and why the laws relating to speeding are in place.
- Appropriate legislation needs to be used to reduce the incidence of road deaths by acting as a deterrent. The changes to the Road Safety Bill regarding a new offence of ‘Death By Careless Driving,’ carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison, provides an alternative if there is not enough evidence to charge a driver with ‘Death By Dangerous Driving.’ It can act as a deterrent too. The argument has been made that it may create high expectations among families of fatal road crash victims, but the minister emphasised the point that it is important to have a wide range of offences available to punish dangerous drivers.
- The minister also discussed the fact that many families of fatal road crash victims feel like an ‘afterthought’ at the court hearing. The focus is on the defendant and the family doesn’t get to speak out about what happened.
- The new Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, which comes into force in April 2006, will outline the right for families who feel they have not received satisfactory treatment by the police following crime (this includes road crashes) can complain to the Ombudsman.
- An evaluation of the Brake pilot projects in West Yorkshire, Bedford and Merseyside to support bereaved families of fatal road crash victims will be made soon.
- The minister is currently working on a green paper for services for victims of crime.
- The Home Office will also be appointing a Victims Commissioner soon, to look at current services available to victims of crime and look at gaps in provision.
Questions and answers
- Mary Williams OBE, chief executive of Brake:
There needs to be a debate about gaps in funding for victims of crime. Will the Victims Commissioner take responsibility for the way the Victims Fund is distributed and if so, when?
A Victims Fund has been set up, which will eventually be funded by those found guilty of crimes. ?4million was set aside between 2002 and 2004? And £3million has been added for 2005. So far the fund has mostly been distributed to victioms of sexual and domestic crime, e.g. for sexual trauma centres and counselling. The Victims commissisoner will be asked to make recommendations for specific areas that should receive funding.
- Name not recorded, question:
It is beneficial to have new offences such as Death by Careless Driving, but the derisory sentences are a real problem. How does the minister respond to this?
It is important to have the right framework of legislation in place to increase penalties and sentences. Many judges are often reluctant to give sentences right on the minimum or maximum boundaries. The recent increase in the maximum sentence for Death by Dangerous Driving from 10 years in prison to 14 years means that less judges will be reluctant to give a 10 year prison sentence than before.
- Name not recorded, question:
How much time will the Home Office spend on convincing The Association of Chief Police Officers to put more resources into enforcement.
There will be a clear priority to tackle this issue in the National Policing Plan.
- Simon Westwood, Central Motorway Police:
I recently attended a Coroners Report reading and found it graphic and upsetting. Is it really necessary for families to hear all the details?
This is an important issue that needs more consideration, particularly where the cause of death has not been contested. I will be happy to discuss this further with coroners.
- Alison Miller, S.A.F.E. Justice Foundation:
Does the Government strategy to support bereaved families of road crash victims extend to tackle the issues faced by families who have been affected by a road crash abroad?
Unfortunately not. It can be very distressing and difficult to find out what is happenening for these families. The government can’t make any promises on this issue in case it cannot deliver them. But it can support famuiles in re-patriating bodies and provide counselling services for these families.
- Bob Winter, The Intensive Care Society:
What is the value of conducting a post mortem when the cause of death is obvious? This has can have religious issues for many.
In these situations, non-invasive post mortems need to be used where possible. For example, by using body scanning.
- Dudley Martin, West Yorkshire Police:
Does the minister recognise the difference for FLOs between working with victims of crime in general and victims of road crashes. Fiona Mactaggart
I don’t feel there are many huge differences, but there are some. It is important to provide strategic investment in good qualities for ALL police.