Illegal Driving and Causation of Injury or Death by Ben Williams

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Ben Williams


Just over two years ago the Supreme Court gave judgment in the case of R v Michael Hughes [2013] USKC 56 [2013] WLR 2461 to the effect that, on a charge of Causing Death by Uninsured Driving (s3ZB RTA 1988), there must be “at least some act or omission in the control of the car which involved some element of fault, whether amounting to careless/inconsiderate driving or not, and which contributed in some more than minimal way to the death”.

On 3rd February 2016, in R v Jack Taylor [2016] UKSC 5, the court pronounced that the same logic applies to cases of vehicle taking where the offence is aggravated by the causation of ‘injury’ (including death) (s12A Theft Act 1968). Their lordships thus overturned R v Marsh (William) [1997] 1 Cr App R 67.

In June 2012, Taylor and another man took a van belonging to the other man’s employer without consent. While driving it, Taylor collided with a scooter on a bend in a narrow country lane, and the rider was killed by the collision. Taylor was later found to have been over the drink drive limit and uninsured at the time of the accident and was charged with aggravated vehicle taking, and with causing the death of the scooter driver while driving uninsured. At the hearing of the case, the Crown accepted that there was no fault in the manner of T’s driving. The judge at first instance found fault had to be proved in respect of both offences. The Crown appealed in relation to the vehicle taking charge (in light of Marsh). The Court of Appeal certified a question.

The Supreme Court said the fact that T had excess alcohol in his blood established that he was guilty of the summary offence under s.5(1)(a) but not that that circumstance had anything to do with the accident. T’s driving could not be said to have caused the accident if it merely explained how the vehicle came to be in the place where the accident occurred.

As Lord Hughes JSC pithily said in R v Hughes “[the deceased] might just as easily have gone off the road and hit a tree, in which case nobody would suggest that his death was caused by the planting of the tree, although that too would have been a sine qua non.”

By Ben Williams

Written by Ben Williams