Call for courts to do more to protect cyclists

'Prosecute more drivers, on more serious charges' – top barrister

Leading barrister Martin Porter QC says drivers responsible for serious crashes involving cyclists need to be pursued to the full extent of the law

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A top lawyer has called for greater legal protection for Britain’s cyclists. Martin Porter QC, speaking out after the death of former boxing champion Gary Mason, said motorists involved in crashes with cyclists need to be prosecuted more diligently and receive stiffer sentences.

The barrister – who has himself been the victim of road rage while cycling – told The Independent that the “car culture” needs to change and prosecutors need to be more willing to charge drivers, and more imaginative with those charges.

He gave the example of a driver who deliberately drove into a cyclist and was jailed for two years for dangerous driving. Had the motorist been prosecuted for assault occasioning actual bodily harm instead, the prison term could have been up to five years.

“The excuses of not seeing cyclists seem to be too readily accepted by the police and the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) so there isn’t a prosecution when there should be,” Mr Porter told the newspaper. “Judges should be handing down stiffer sentences and prosecutors should be more ambitious in the choice of charges and the decision to prosecute.”

Latest figures suggest 2,700 cyclists were killed or injured in the year to the end of June 2010 on the UK’s roads. Christopher Peck, policy co-ordinator for national cyclists’ organisation CTC, told BikeRadar: “Martin Porter is quite right that prosecutors need to be more imaginative. A recent but rare case [where five men were jailed for their part in the manslaughter of a cyclist] illustrates that this can be done.”

He added: “Part of the problem stems from the fact that juries have become less and less likely to convict ‘otherwise law-abiding’ motorists of crimes that will see them punished severely because they emphathise with them more than with the victim.

“Only when the driver is clearly criminal (as in the case above) or very different from the make-up of the jury will the correct offence be pursued. The arrival of the ‘causing death by careless driving’ offence in the last few years has meant even fewer motorists who kill are receiving significant penalties.”

A spokesman for the CPS told BikeRadar: “The Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have a duty to make sure that the right person is prosecuted for the right offence. In considering a charge involving a collision between a cyclist and a motorist, a lawyer would take into account the CPS policy on bad driving. 

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“CPS lawyers can only charge someone with an offence for which there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, and when it’s in the public interest to do so. Bringing any other charge would therefore be in breach of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.”