Motorist who caused death of friend by dangerous driving fails in appeal against sentence

A motorist who was jailed for six years and banned from driving for eight years after being found guilty of causing death of a “close friend” by dangerous driving has had an appeal against sentence refused.

The Criminal Appeal Court dismissed claims that the period of imprisonment and the period of disqualification were “excessive”.

Lord Menzies and Lady Dorrian heard that the appellant, Ian Milligan, was convicted on 23 April 2015 after trial at the High Court in Glasgow of contravening section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, causing death by dangerous driving of Alastair Wells, the front seat passenger in his car in a road traffic accident on the A702 near Abington on 8 July 2013.

On 28 May 2015 he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and disqualified from driving for a period of eight years and until he passed the extended test of competence to drive, but he challenged the sentence imposed.

It was submitted that both the period of imprisonment and the period of disqualification were “excessive” as the appellant had no analogous previous convictions.

It was pointed out that there was no question in this case of excessive speed or and that there was an absence of any aggravating factors such as drink, drugs or other driving offences, previous convictions or attempt to drive off or the like.

It was also said that the accident was the result of a single manoeuvre, a “brief but catastrophic error”.

Counsel for the appellant argued that the sentencing judge “fell into error” in categorising this as falling into the second level of seriousness in the English sentencing guidelines for offences of this nature and that this should properly be categorised as falling within level 3.

Refusing the appeal, the judges warned against applying the English guidelines too strictly, adding that the Scottish approach was to sentencing was “rather less formulaic”.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lord Menzies said: “We caution against too rigid an application of the English sentencing guidelines. They are not to be applied even in England in mechanistic fashion and it must be borne in mind that those guidelines in England are to be understood in a different sentencing regime from the Scottish sentencing regime.

“We observe that there were, even looking at those guidelines, some aggravating factors as these are identified in the guidelines. The third aggravating factor is serious injury to one or more victims in addition to the death and that certainly applies in this case, in which four others were injured, two of them sustaining life-threatening injuries.

“The fourth aggravating factor is disregard of warnings and the trial judge observed that this applied in this case, and having regard to his summary of the evidence with regard to road markings it is clear to us that that is indeed properly an aggravating factor.

“Again, only looking at the guidelines we accept that the offender was seriously injured, and we also accept that the victim was a close friend of the appellant, and these are identified in the English guidelines as additional mitigating factors. But the Scottish approach to sentencing is rather less formulaic than the English sentencing guidelines.”

The judges added that the prison term and period of disqualification imposed by the sentencing judge could be considered as falling towards “the upper end” of the appropriate range of sentences.

“However, the trial judge had the benefit of having heard all of the evidence, and unlike sentence appeals in which a plea of guilty is tendered and the sentencing judge may perhaps be described as being in the same position as an appeal court, in this case the sentencing judge is in a better position than we are to assess the appropriate sentence having heard all of the evidence,” Lord Menzies said.

He added: “The question for us is simply whether the sentence of six years’ imprisonment and disqualification for eight years was excessive. Despite the fact that this was not a prolonged course of dangerous driving, despite the fact it was a single manoeuvre, having regard to all the circumstances we are unable to say that these sentences are excessive in the particular circumstances of this case and accordingly we must refuse this appeal.”

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