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Conviction quashed in causing death whilst driving uninsured case

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Causing death whilst driving uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified, an offence under section 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988, is controversial. All that it requires is for the presence of an uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified driver on the road to cause the death of someone else. It does not have to be the only cause of death or even the main one. As long as it plays some part, that is enough to make the driver concerned guilty of a homicide offence.

Another controversial aspect of the offence is that it did not appear at first to require any fault on the part of the uninsured driver. Therefore, if an uninsured motorist for example, driving otherwise faultlessly and under the speed limit, happens to be crashed into by a second motorist, driving erratically on the wrong side of the road, under the influence of both heroin and alcohol and having worked a number of lengthy shifts at work, that first driver is guilty of the homicide offence regardless of the fact that the accident was clearly the fault of the second. Those were the facts of the case of Hughes where the Court of Appeal ruled that the first driver was guilty of the offence despite the blameless nature of their driving. The Supreme Court disagreed. It held that there had to be some element of fault in the driving; not necessarily enough to amount to careless driving but there did have to be some element of blameworthiness about it. That changed the law.

Shortly before the change, another uninsured driver, Mr. C. pleaded guilty to the offence. Like Mr. Hughes, he was driving faultlessly but without insurance. He hit a motorcyclist that was on the wrong side of the road. Tragically, the motorcyclist later died. On the law before Hughes, he had no defence. The law then changed. Application for leave to appeal was submitted on his behalf by Mimma Sabato of JD Spicer Zeb and the author was instructed for the appeal hearing. Although the prosecution belatedly tried to find some fault in Mr. C’s driving, the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and ordered no re-trial. It agreed with the defence that this was a tragic accident.

Following a change in the law like this one, it is always worth considering whether there are any cases in which there might be a successful appeal. It is difficult to achieve, but the case of Mr. C shows that it can be done.

Geoff Payne
Chambers of Paul Mendelle QC and George Carter-Stephenson QC
25 Bedford Row

Geoff Payne is a barrister at 25 Bedford Row who specialises in criminal defence with a particular emphasis on high value heavy fraud cases. Over the past few years, the vast majority of his work has consisted of defending clients in lengthy trials involving allegations of fraud of up to £450 million in total. He has a particular expertise in Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud.

He has also appeared in proceedings for defendants accused of corruption and misconduct in public office in areas such as the police and the Ministry of Defence.

Geoff Payne’s practice also encompasses cases of heavy crime, such as those involving allegations of murder and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm.