Trinity Barrister in Landmark Supreme Court Motor Offence Ruling

Trinity barrister, Christopher Knox appeared at the Supreme Court in a significant and wide-ranging hearing relating to allegations of death by driving a motor vehicle when uninsured, disqualified and without a licence. The hearing was an appeal against an order of the Recorder of Newcastle HHJ Hodson and the Court of Appeal Division, R. v. H [2011] All ER (D) 135 (Jun); [2011] EWCA Crim 1508 June 17, 2011. 

The Supreme Court, R v Hughes (Appellant)[2013] UKSC56 , has recently ruled in favour of the Appellant, Mr Hughes who was originally charged with causing death by driving whilst unlicensed and without insurance. 

The circumstances were very briefly, that Mr Hughes was driving a vehicle which was admittedly uninsured and he was unlicensed. As he was travelling along the A69 in a perfectly proper fashion a man who had worked 6 nightshifts in succession finishing that morning, who was already on a maintenance dose of methadone, who had driven from Scotland some 230 miles and was hurrying back to Scotland, who was substantially affected by heroin and after a period of driving erratically drove into the side of Mr Hughes’ vehicle. 

The driver was killed – Mr Hughes and his family were injured and shaken but not too seriously. Mr Hughes was charged with the new offences introduced by the Road Safety Act 2006. 

The then Recorder of Newcastle upon Tyne His Honour Judge Hodson accepted the proposition that since the Deceased was 100% responsible for the accident which caused his death, Mr Hughes could not have caused “the death” as required by the Act and therefore Mr Hughes was not guilty. 

The Prosecution appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeal and in a ruling given in June 2011 overturned the ruling of the Recorder – they followed the case of R v Williams which in similar circumstances had suggested that being “on the road” whilst uninsured and/or unlicensed was sufficient to fulfil the requirements of “causing”. 

The Supreme Court has now emphatically overturned the ruling of the Court of Appeal in Hughes and also in Williams and has set out a very different test as to what the word “cause” means in this offence. 

In practical terms the new ruling will make it very difficult for proceedings under this section to go forward since the causation test is going to be very close to the test required to satisfy a Court of an offence of Causing Death by Careless Driving. 

The text book writers have almost universally and unanimously advised that the previous wording amounted to making the Section 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act offence one of strict liability and Defendants have been advised accordingly – i.e. that even if they were in no way the cause of the accident they were guilty of this offence. 

The Supreme Court has in effect overturned that and there will be a substantial number of Defendants who have wrongly been convicted or pleaded guilty under a misapprehension of law. 

Christopher Knox was led by Robert Smith Q.C. instructed by John Donkin Solicitors.

A detailed review of the implications of R v Hughes by Christopher Knox can be found on CrimeLine . Christopher and the barristers at Trinity will be only too happy to advise and help anyone who finds themselves in this position as a result of this ruling. Please contact the Trinity Criminal clerking team on 0191 232 1927.

Christopher is a member of Trinity Chambers' BusinessCriminal,Family and Matrimonial FinanceMental Health and Court of ProtectionPersonal Injury and Regulatory practice groups.

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Chris Lucarelli

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