For the first time in the UK, a motorist alleged to have caused the death of a cyclist will face a private prosecution financed by an online crowd funding campaign.
The Cyclists’ Defence Fund started the appeal after the Met refused to refer the case onto the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring a prosecution against the driver. The online appeal eventually managed to raise over £60,000 from over 1500 donations.
Mr Michael Mason was hit by a car as he was cycling home from work. He was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with ‘severe traumatic brain injury’. Unfortunately doctors advised it was unlikely he would ever recover and he was taken off life support and died 19 days later.
The charge against the motorist will be for causing the death by dangerous driving. This is a criminal prosecution and should not be confused with the more regular civil action for negligence that is often brought against careless drivers. Generally, if there is a criminal element to a road traffic incident, such as presumed driving under the influence or reckless driving, a case will be referred to the CPS to bring a criminal prosecution against the defendant driver. However, in this case, and despite a review by the Met, no referral was made.
When there is no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, but private loss or injury has been caused, a claim can be brought by a private party against another in the civil court. This is described as a cause of action and is usually brought in road traffic accidents for loss caused by negligent driving.
However, in rare instances, a private prosecution can be brought against a party in a criminal court. This is an unusual situation as criminal courts require a higher standard of proof of wrongdoing, described as beyond reasonable doubt, than in civil courts which requires simply proving wrongdoing on the balance of probabilities. Moreover, those bringing a prosecution will not be able to claim compensation for the wrongdoing.
In this instance, the case has been pursued because there is a belief that the motorist needs to be brought to account for their actions. However, whether it succeeds in court remains to be seen as the CPS not bringing the prosecution is usually indicative that the case is unlikely to reach the required proof that a crime has been committed.