Having an accident on private land.
In the event of a serious incident on a public road or place, it is obligatory for all parties involved, by law, to apprise the police by way of the Road Traffic Act 1998. If a party is found guilty under this statute, the individual could face criminal prosecution resulting in a custodial sentence. Driving offences carry sentences which can be anywhere up to 14 years in prison and may also include a drawn-out driving ban or weighty fine. Since the majority of other crimes committed on private land, i.e. theft or assault can be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service; this is not the same in regards to driving offences. This is a legal ambiguity which must be closed.
Calls for uniformity have been made previously and were reiterated very recently in consequence to an investigation into the demise of 23-month-old named Pearl Black in Wales. This specific incident occurred whilst Pearl, along with her brother and father, was walking to the local park. A Range Rover, which was situated on private land, rolled rearward down a slope and collided into a garden wall demolishing it. The wall collapsed onto the toddler causing her death. The court was informed that the gear lever had been left between park and reverse (in neutral) and the handbrake was not applied. Further, the handbrake had not been adequately applied; as a result
The Coroner, namely Andrew Barkley, who dealt with this particular case, officially recorded the fatality as accidental death, albeit it was clear in his judgement that the misfortune was due to “driver error.”
The parents’ of Pearl are running a campaign for a change in the law, in order for such incidents, whether on private or public land, to be treated by the same token. Retrospectively, in 2013, Harry Whitlam was killed when he was crushed by a trailer on private farmland. The campaign of Pearl’s parents’ resonates calls made by the parents of Harry Whitlam back in 2013. In the case of Harry Whitlam, the driver was very nearly three times over the legal alcohol limit but avoided criminal prosecution due to the location of where the incident took place. However, approximately three years later, he was imprisoned following a private prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive but was only sentenced to under 18 months – far below the length of sentencing if it had occurred on public land. Harry’s parents have called for a “Whitlam’s Law” to replace what we have at this moment in time, a loophole which only undercuts the preventive effect the law should impose for those who drive in an irresponsible or treacherous way.
At this moment in time, the law currently states that if you are involved in an incident involving a vehicle on private land – or in fact if the action which led to the incident was on private land – those who should be deemed responsible, are improbable to be tried for criminal prosecution. The only exceptions to this are a charge of “malicious or furious driving” under the Offences against the Persons Act 1861, however, this carries a mere two-year maximum sentence.
If the individual in question is seen to have been grossly negligent in upholding their duty of care, the Crown Prosecution Service may also contemplate a charge of gross negligence manslaughter.
It is our duty to prevent such loopholes to be allowed as we are at major risk of losing further lives. The need for equal treatment whether incidents occur on private or public land must be practiced and acknowledged by all.