Philippa Luscombe, partner in the Penningtons Manches personal injury team, looks at the process of police investigation and prosecution following a serious road accident resulting in serious injury or death.
Police attendance at a road traffic collision (RTC) is required in the following circumstances:
The initial point of contact when there is an RTC is likely to be the control room. While dispatching officers and emergency services, the actions of the control room will also be the focus of the initial stages of any investigation. Control room staff should attempt to record such information as:
Officers arriving at the scene of the RTC have primary duties above those of the investigation such as preserving life and treating injury, preventing further collisions, setting up traffic control. Their duties also include securing the scene for investigation (if needed).
The level of investigation carried out will be determined by the circumstances and the level of injury. When a person is killed or seriously injured there will always be an investigation. There is also likely to be an investigation if there are aggravating circumstances such as driving while intoxicated or suspicion of an offence.
Where a collision has led to a death or life-changing injury, a Road Policing Senior Investigating Officer (RP SIO) will be assigned. A constabulary may have a specific Serious Collision Investigation Unit (SCIU) with its own specialist officers.
Although the RP SIO is responsible for all of the decisions made during the investigation, they will manage a team to carry out the investigation. The team will include:
The investigation itself will involve:
An injured person and/ or their family may be interviewed as part of this process of investigation. However, the police will not interview anyone who is not physically or mentally fit to be interviewed. If Family Liaison are involved then they will often provide general updates on the progress of the investigation but cannot advise on the details of the evidence being obtained.
In cases where a prosecution is likely, the police may take what is known as an ‘impact statement’ from the injured person or relatives. This is aimed at setting out the impact of the defendant’s actions on individuals and to influence the judge when considering an appropriate sentence.
When a crime is reported to the police there are three stages to the process:
The police will gather evidence including forensic evidence and witness statements. Suspects may be arrested (but need not be) and will be interviewed under caution.
Based on the evidence the police will take one of three actions:
Notice of Intended Prosecution
For an individual to be charged with an offence under the Road Traffic Act, they must be served a ‘Notice of Intended Prosecution’ (NIP) within 14 days of the incident.
If the driver of a vehicle is not known, then the owner of the vehicle may be served instead. NIPs can also be issued verbally to the driver at the time of the offence.
Serving an NIP does not automatically mean that the recipient will face prosecution: it is a warning that they may face prosecution.
Decision to prosecute
If a decision has been made to charge a suspect, the police will detail all the circumstances surrounding the alleged offence to the Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) in writing and provide all of the evidence gathered.
The CPS lawyers will review the case and determine whether or not to prosecute. Their decision will be based on two questions:
If the evidential threshold is not met, the matter may be is referred back to the police for further investigations and evidence gathering before being reassessed by the CPS. If the thresholds are still not met then the CPS will discontinue the case. A decision to prosecute must be made within six months of the accident.
Prosecution in the public interest?
Given the serious nature of cases involving a death or serious injury, the public interest will usually be in favour of prosecution. However, there will be cases where the CPS decides that it is not in the public interest to prosecute.
Cases where the death or injury in an RTC is that of a close friend or family member of the potential defendant pose serious considerations on whether prosecution is in the public interest. Prosecutors must balance the consequences to the driver against the need to ensure the safety of other road users. Where the risk of a similar incident occurring is low, the CPS may decide not to charge.
There are a number of offences which can arise from driving incidents.
The prosecution must prove the following:
Other charges that may be brought include:
A suspect who is charged may be bailed until a court date. The police will only bail a suspect if they are confident the suspect will attend court on the given date and will not pose any threat to the public or commit any crime. If the police are not confident the suspect will attend court or the suspect is accused of a serious or violent offence, the police may decide to remand the suspect in custody until the court date. A suspect may also be bailed without charge and will be given a date to return to the police station to find out if they will be charged.
In a criminal trial the prosecution is obliged to disclose all its relevant evidence to the defence in advance of the trial. A person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be provided with the evidence the prosecution intends to use at their trial, as well as the evidence which it has but does not intend to use, if that evidence could assist the defence.
The prosecution team puts its case forward, presents its evidence and calls its witnesses (whom the defence may cross-examine)
The personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP can advise on the various steps involved in the process and how these affect the progress/ investigation of any personal injury claim. For initial advice without charge contact us on Freephone 0800 328 9545 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.