The Scottish Sentencing Council’s new sentencing guideline on death by driving offences has been approved by the High Court – marking a legal first for Scotland.

It is the country’s first ever offence guideline and the first time that the Council has set out guidance to help courts select a specific type and level of sentence. It also aims to increase public understanding of how these highly complex and sensitive cases are dealt with by the courts.

The guideline was approved at a hearing of the High Court in Edinburgh. It will come into effect on 16 January 2024.

Approval sentencing guideline hearing.

Chair of the Council, Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, said: “This guideline is the first of its kind for Scotland and marks a significant development for both the Council and Scotland’s criminal justice system. I am pleased that it has now been approved by the High Court.

“Causing death by driving offences are among the most serious, challenging, and sensitive cases dealt with by our courts. They involve tragic loss of life and have a devastating effect on the families of victims.

“Nothing can make up for the pain and loss involved in such cases, but we hope that the guideline will help bereaved families and others involved to better understand the sentencing process at court.

“It will also assist judges in the difficult task of deciding a sentence in these cases and help to increase general public understanding of the law and sentencing practice in death by driving offences.”

The guideline sets out sentencing ranges to assist judges with selecting 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 guideline also explains other issues that courts are required by law to consider, such as   whether to reduce the sentence as a result of the offender pleading guilty. 

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

A public consultation on the guideline took place last year and the feedback from this led to the guidance being strengthened in a number of areas, such as the inclusion of prolonged and deliberate aggressive driving in the highest level of seriousness for death by dangerous driving offences.

A number of factors were also added to the list of aggravations likely to make sentencing more severe, such as the victim being a vulnerable road user, while sentencing ranges were increased for certain offences.

The guideline and impact assessment are available to view on the Council’s website.

A report about the consultation, explaining the Council’s decisions, is available here.

The guideline has been shaped by extensive research and engagement work carried out by the Council, including 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.

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