Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tory Politician and (to some, even if it is not true) brutal dog killer Michael Heseltine is a well known ‘big beast’ of 20th Century politics.
But even members of the House of Lords have their brushes with the law sometimes (although sometimes it feels honourable members of their Lordships house have their collar felt disproportionately).
So it was that, on 6th January 2017, Baron Heseltine found himself in the dock (metaphorically speaking) as a result of an incident last summer
Facts and Sentence
On 19th June 2016, Lord Heseltine pulled out of a road near his house, but failed to notice that there was a cyclist approaching, who he knocked over.
The injuries to the cyclist were serious – a broken arm with four fractures, shattered knees, and other more minor cuts and bruises.
Lord Heseltine pleaded guilty and was fined £5,000, as well as having to pay the Victim Surcharge of £170 and £85 costs. He received 5 penalty points.
What was the offence?
The Guardian reported that he had pleaded guilty by post ‘to a charge of dangerous driving‘. This would be a bit strange, as if it actually was dangerous driving, Lord Heseltine would have been summonsed to Court.
Also, given the injuries, had the charge actually been dangerous driving, the sentence would appear to be pretty light.
According to the BBC, he was actually charged with ‘careless driving’ – a much less serious offence (that is non-imprisonable). This would make much more sense.
The difference (in essence) between the two offences is the standard of the driving.
Dangerous Driving requires driving that obviously “falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver,” (see the Road Traffic Act 1988). Careless driving requires driving that “falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver“.
It can be seen that whilst many accidents could be careless driving, it takes a lot more for it to fall into the far more serious offence of Dangerous Driving.
This is reflected in the penalty. Someone convicted of careless driving can be fined and disqualified, but no more. Dangerous Driving carries a prison sentence of up to 2 years (up to 5 years in cases such as this where really serious injury is caused), as well as a mandatory disqualification.
There are sentencing guidelines (see page 116) and the sentence would suggest that it was put in the middle category, which seems fair enough. The sentence is pretty much what we would expect.
It also indicates that in the BBC v Guardian fight for legal accuracy, it is 1-0 to the beeb in 2017- Lord Heseltine’s driving was careless, but not dangerous.
The only oddity to many is why the court did not order any compensation. Lord Heseltine is a millionaire, and could certainly afford it. It may be that, given that there is almost certainly a civil claim being dealt with by the insurance company, it was decided that that would just muddy the waters, and it was best to leave that for the civil courts.
In fact, as is pointed out BTL, the criminal Court should not award compensation in cases involving road traffic accident unless certain circumstances apply – see s130 PCC(S)A and Paymai  EWCA Crim 1383