The recent death of Charles Bunyasi began as a murder investigation but will now ‘drop off the map’. Why? Because it no longer counts as a homicide.
Mr Bunyasi (right) was run over by his own van after it was stolen by a thief. The exact circumstances are unclear but detectives have charged the suspect only with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’.
This offence, brought in by the Road Traffic Act of 1988, was intended to prevent drivers escaping a charge of murder or manslaughter, mainly due to a lack of intent.
Under current Crown Prosecution Service guidance, a murder charge may be considered where ‘the vehicle was intentionally used as a weapon to kill’.
Where the killing was involuntary, the charge might be ‘unlawful act manslaughter’ or ‘gross negligence manslaughter.’
The first applies if the defendant uses their vehicle as a weapon or to frighten, whereas the second involves driving which ‘falls far below the minimum acceptable standard of driving’ and there is an obvious and serious risk of death.
Causing death by dangerous driving on the other hand requires only that the defendant’s driving is dangerous and a ‘more than negligible’ cause of death.
There is some debate whether drivers are being charged with causing death by dangerous driving when gross negligence manslaughter is more appropriate and carries a higher maximum penalty.
The CPS response to this, following a public consultation was:
Gross negligence manslaughter should not be charged unless there is something to set the case apart from one where one of the statutory offences [death by dangerous driving etc] can be proved. This will normally be evidence to show a very high risk of death, making the case one of the utmost gravity.
As a matter of law it is more difficult to prove an offence of gross negligence manslaughter than it is to prove an offence of causing death by dangerous driving. It is not necessary to have evidence of an obvious and serious risk of death to prove an offence of causing death by dangerous driving. All that is required is evidence that the driving was dangerous and that the driving caused the death of another person.
The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving used to be ten years. It was increased to 14 years in 2003 and is perhaps now the preferred charge for prosecutors.
It also has the benefit of not being included in the homicide statistics kept by the Metropolitan Police.
An example of a vehicle murder case is the death of Gary Johnson, who was deliberately mown down outside the Ministry of Sound nightclub.
Imran Raja was convicted of manslaughter after knocking down Robert Scott with his taxi in Mayfair.