Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Grief Exploited

This BBC report is an example of a really difficult decision, for prosecutors and for the bench concerned. For one thing it is a highly unusual case, of the kind that turns up once every few years at most, so there is no reservoir of experience or case law on which to draw. All I know of this case has been gleaned from the press, but I think it is fair to assume that this cyclist was riding fast, on the pavement, and in a manner that regarded pedestrians as an intrusion upon his desired course. The unfortunate victim died in a way that is fluky, albeit fairly common, by falling and hitting her head on the hard ground. Her family, naturally, are devastated, but as is today's custom they were not allowed to gather together with their friends and supporters to mourn and to come to terms with their loss, but rather challenged by the press to say 'how they felt'.
Well how the hell would you or I feel? Numb from grief, some of us might seek vengeance, some might look to the law for redress, some might draw upon their faith to forgive.
The CPS prosecutor who decided upon the charge will have considered the law (not much help, since most of these cases involve Mrs. Miggins being knocked away from her shopping trolley or some such) and will have considered the awful consequences of this incident; I am sure that the CPS charging guidelines were carefully consulted too.
Put yourself in the prosecutor's shoes, and in those of the bench. Emotions are running high, the press are milling outside in the lobby, and the leader writers are honing their pencils ready for a denunciation.
The offence carries a limited maximum fine - nothing else is available. The amount is a massive one by magistrates' standards. So the offender 'walks free from court' and the tabloids explode in their wrath. If my experience is anything to go by, the court's mailbox will receive two or three dozen abusive letters in the next few days.
One final point: some idiot has just demanded a new offence making dangerous cycling on a par with dangerous driving. The awful tragedy we have just been looking at doesn't change the old axiom that hard cases make bad law.

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