Earlier this year, PC James Holden who was charged with Dangerous Driving and sent to Crown Court in respect of a pursuit he had in February 2011 with a prolific offender, Louis Bibby, 19. Bibby was driving a stolen van, was on bail at the time, had 145 previous convictions. Holden called off the pursuit when Bibby drove through the barriers at a level crossing, but was still prosecuted. Thankfully common sense prevailed and PC Holden was found Not Guilty.
Since this case there has been a nagging doubt in the minds of many Emergency Services drivers, especially Police, about the potential implications of simply doing their job. In a world where a good officer can find themselves in Crown Court for injuring no one and damaging nothing, serious questions needed asking of the legislators.
Following significant criticism in the media and directly from the Police Federation a review of current guidelines has come to pass to address some of the glaring issues facing blue light drivers. Launching the public consultation phase of the review the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, explained:
“The issues that arise for prosecutors when deciding to charge someone with a very serious driving offence – particularly where there has been a fatality – are inevitably difficult and sensitive.”
The draft guidance published this week advises prosecutors to use discretion in deciding whether or not a prosecution is required in the public interest if an offence is committed while responding to an emergency call, stating:
“It is very unlikely to be appropriate to proceed with a prosecution on public interest grounds if a police officer, ambulance driver or firefighter commits a driving offence while responding to an emergency call unless the driving is dangerous or indicates a high degree of culpability,”
This guidance should bring a little comfort to those who still choose to chase the bad guys. Since the Holden case it has been quite common, in my experience, for decisions about whether or not to pursue to be based on career preservation rather than the nature of the offence or the necessity to prosecute or prevent further offending by taking the offender into custody. It is reassuring to hear some common sense advice from those who make the charging decisions.
The DPP said:
“Those who work in the emergency services need to know that they can respond to an emergency call without fear of prosecution for doing their job. This is not a licence for emergency workers to act with immunity from prosecution, but it is important to appreciate that police officers, ambulance drivers and firefighters sometimes need to drive in a manner which would be not be considered acceptable by other drivers.”
The guidance also goes so far as to address so-called ‘nearest and dearest’ cases where a close relative or other loved one dies as a result of a drivers actions whilst being pursued. It suggests that a Police officer should not necessarily be held responsible for dangers created by the person who is being pursued and the consequences of the offending drivers actions.
On the subject of public interest regarding prosecution of a Police or other Emergency Service driver the report states:
“[The decision to prosecute] must of course, be balanced against the need to ensure the safety of other road users – and if there is evidence to suggest that an individual presents a continuing danger to other road users then the proper course may well be to prosecute on public interest grounds once there is sufficient evidence to do so.”
Submissions to the CPS in response to this guidance are due by 8th November 2012.