Causing Death by Driving: New Sentencing Research by Prof Cyrus Tata

New research co-authored by the Centre for Law, Crime and Justice’s Professor Cyrus Tata shines new light on the sentencing of causing death by driving offences.

Published by the Scottish Sentencing Council, the report of the research study, the first of its kind in Scotland, investigates public knowledge and attitudes to sentencing. It also examines the views and experiences of bereaved family members about the criminal justice and sentencing process.

The research explores what members of the public know including about: the range of causing death by driving offences; views of harm and culpability; perceptions of sentencing.

The research then asked members of the public to consider specific anonymised case-scenarios. 

Bereaved family members also reported their experiences of criminal justice and sentencing in particular.

Commenting on the research, Prof Tata said:

“Causing death by driving offences is a particularly difficult area for judicial sentencers and policy-makers. Such cases invariably involve the highest level of harm, but entail varying levels of culpability. 

“Our research found public knowledge in this area to be patchy. But by using case-scenarios our research was able to compare what sort of sentence people would prefer to see passed with what people think is typically passed. This could then in turn be compared with the actual sentence which is normally passed in such circumstances.

“We were also able to see how different kinds of information about the circumstances of the offence and offender affected people’s views and expectations.

“As well as examining public perceptions, our research also documents the experiences of bereaved family members. It is impossible not to be moved by their testimony and we are most grateful to them for sharing their painful experiences with us.

“Our research raises significant questions about how criminal justice and sentencing practices are communicated to and with bereaved family members, as well as with members of the public more generally.”

The research, commissioned in 2018 by the Scottish Sentencing Council, was conducted by Prof Tata in collaboration with a team of researchers from ScotCen (Susan Reid, Hannah Biggs, Kaushi Attygalle, Konstantina Vosnaki)  (based on fieldwork in 2019) and Dr Rachel McPherson (Glasgow University).

The new 2021 research report published by the Scottish Sentencing Council can be read here.  

The 2021 report is based on 2019 fieldwork. That research follows an earlier 2018 report by Dr Rachel McPherson and Prof Cyrus Tata on the state of the law and international knowledge about causing death by driving offences published by the Scottish Sentencing Council. That previous report can be read here here