Friday, 13 November 2015

CPS Campaign

There is an old joke saying that if you wanted to kill someone and get away with it, run them over with your car.
Sadly, that joke pretty much reflects the reality in the UK and what is painfully obvious to see is that the UK's justice system is failing cyclists. Badly.

Drivers who kill typically walk away from court free, if they even go to court at all.

CTC was so concerned about this that they started their Road Justice campaign, lobbying for stiffer penalties and better prosecution. That certainly is a step in the right direction, although it's anyone's guess as to how effective that campaign would be. Ultimately, it is a political campaign, and while campaigning on that level is essential, it can be a very long time indeed before it starts yielding any benefits. If it ever does.

There is room, and great need, for a more direct approach - for a campaign that targets the Crown Prosecution Service directly. CPS, like most government departments, had their budgets slashed to breaking point. They are overworked and under-resourced and so it is little wonder that they have such an appallingly poor record of successful prosecutions of drivers, that result in meaningful sentences.

Cycle campaigners often completely lose sight of the fact that most people don't have their level of understanding. If you walk up to a complete stranger and start telling them you were "taking the lane" or "riding in primary" they wouldn't have a clue what you're on about. If you explained that it meant you were riding in the middle of the lane, chances are they'd think you were a selfish idiot for having done so. And crucially, if you speak to enough complete strangers that feel that way, sooner or later one of them will be a prosecutor and that prosecutor would also think you were a selfish idiot.

Cycle campaigning has been reasonably successful in teaching cyclists how to ride on the roads, but has failed miserably at explaining the same to drivers.

And that then becomes our first major stumbling block: the prosecutor in court, who is supposed to deliver damning evidence to court about the indisputable guilt of the driver in question often a) doesn't believe in that guilt, b) doesn't know how to effectively destroy the arguments put forward by the defense (blinded by the sun, anyone?) and c) doesn't have a clear strategy, backed up by evidence, to help justice be done.

That is a massive failing within CPS, but oddly enough it also represents the single biggest opportunity for change.

Clearly what is needed is to create a dangerous-driver-prosecution pack that contains the strategies, the facts, references to case law, references to relevant legislation, perhaps links to the latest research (for example about the effectiveness of helmets and hi-viz) and tested arguments to destroy the often feeble defenses that drivers use to walk away free from court.

Make no mistake - this is a monumental task that will never quite be complete, but will instead always be a work in progress. This task requires expert legal input, expert medical input, access to expert witnesses, maybe an online portal containing reference material, senior support from within CPS, cross-party political support and of course funding.

In a worst-case scenario, even if we could only compile a bound volume covering main points and have this distributed to CPS offices it could potentially already help a great deal.

I'm no legal expert, so I cannot realistically make suggestions about the exact format of such a volume, save to say it should be fairly simple, so an tired, over-worked prosecutor can scan-read it in the taxi to court, which appears to be when many of them first get the opportunity to read any details of the case they're taking to court.

There is some astoundingly good news: Martin Porter QC, who has given evidence before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling, has said he supports the idea, and his legal input would be absolutely invaluable. Crucially, Mr Porter is a highly educated and highly respected individual, which changes things immensely. After all, I'm just a guy who rides a bike, and as such nobody will pay me much attention.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair and impractical to expect Mr Porter to do everything and so it remains essential to get as many other legal people involved as we can. If any such people hold senior positions within CPS, then so much the better. We will also need medical experts to come forward, specifically to provide evidence to counter the frankly absurd levels of protection defense lawyers seem to attach to polystyrene cycle helmets, as well as give other evidence, such as the likelihood of injured cyclists dying from pelvic injuries.
Such evidence could take the form of statements that are easily copied and submitted as evidence to courts.

People with a deeper understanding of courts, and a good insight into sentencing guidelines will need to compile the strong arguments that the tired, over-worked prosecutor can deliver in court and over time, as defense teams change tactics to adjust, these will need to be reviewed and amended as required.

The entire project will require publicity, so any friendly journo's wishing to jump in would be most welcome. Again there is good news, with John Stevenson of Road CC being very supportive of the project, too.

And this is where YOU come in: can YOU help with this project? Can you donate time, knowledge, support or resources? Can you arrange cheap (or free) printing of the finished product? Any and all help will be much appreciated.

Please understand though that not all offers of help may be needed at any given point in time and please don't feel offended if at at point your kind offer isn't taken up. This project will be quite challenging to manage if it was done in-house, by a single organisation. Working with a distributed bunch of volunteers it could at times be extremely difficult.

As a starting point, I eblieve we will need to establish a core commitee to co-ordinate things, just to get it off the ground. The member ship of this comittee will need to be reviewed in a few months, at which point hopefully we can give a more formal and more permanent structure to the project.

So, are you in? Will you help? And if so, how can you help? In the complete absence of any other structure at this moment, please post a comment. Later, as the project gains momentum, I'll update this to point to a more appropriate means of communication.