A guest article written by Martin Porter, a high profile QC in the UK, appears on The Guardian today, with the author calling for the removal of the trial by jury option in cases involving dangerous drivers and vulnerable road users.
“This might sound like a curious thing for a QC to propose, but I believe it would make justice more likely, particularly for the most vulnerable road users, cyclists and pedestrians, who are currently too often being failed,” says Porter, who has first hand experience in such cases.
Pointing to colleagues in the legal profession’s prior knowledge of such cases, Porter suggests that defence lawyers will often push for a trial by Jury over trial by magistrate, knowing that a jury will more often deliver either acquittal or a softer sentence for their client. This has been shown in numerous cases to work, two examples of which Porter flags here and here.
Pointing to Britain’s car dependence, Porter believes that juries are more than likely going to be largely made up of drivers in the majority of cases. As a result, “far fewer jurors are likely to identify with a victim not in a vehicle, particularly those on a bike,” writes the author.
Certainly numerous studies have shown that driver distraction is prominent and widespread, another contributing factor in why Porter believes it often takes jurors an astonishingly little amount of time to reach verdicts in such cases.
In 2015, 26,000 people were killed on Europe’s roads, eight percent of which were cyclists. The European Commission says this is largely down to greater interaction between vulnerable road users and motorists on the roads and has called for further resource to be dedicated to improving safety. In the UK however, funding is lacking, especially when compared to road and rail investment, among other things.
“we must do something. A generation is being brought up to be driven everywhere, particularly to school, because their parents feel active travel is too dangerous. This attitude continues into adult life and into the jury box. The bad drivers responsible for this perception of danger are a small minority, but they must be tackled,” concludes Porter.
Further citing a BBC study, the article highlights that fewer than half of drivers face jail having killed a cyclist.