Pensioner who crashed into motorcyclists fails in ‘automatism’ appeal

A pensioner who was banned from driving for 10 years after he seriously injured two motorcyclists in a road traffic accident while driving himself to a hospital has failed in an appeal against his conviction.

The Criminal Appeal Court ruled that the sheriff had correctly withdrawn the special defence of “automatism”.

But the judges also held that while the ban imposed was not unreasonable, the fine was unduly harsh.

Lady Paton, Lady Smith and Lady Cosgrove heard that the appellant William Scott, 80, knocked down the two men on Riverside Drive in Dundee on 28 June 2013, as he tried to drive himself to Ninewells Hospital after falling ill.

His vehicle crossed on to the opposite side of the road and crashed into a motorbike, which collided with a second bike, knocking both riders to the ground and causing them serious injuries.

Mr Scott was disqualified from driving for 10 years and fined £1,000, but appealed against conviction and sentence.

The appeal focused on the sheriff’s decision to withdraw a special defence of automatism - “a total alienation of reason amounting to a complete absence of self‑control” - as it was submitted that the appellant was not aware of his actions at the time of the collision.

However, the judges held that having had regard to the sheriff’s report and having considered the submissions made about the evidence - even taking the evidence at its highest - “it could not provide any proper basis for automatism” in the light of the authorities of Ross v HM Advocate 1991 SCCR 823 and the subsequent case of Sorley v HM Advocate 1992 SCCR 396.

“So, in these circumstances, it is our opinion that it was the sheriff’s duty, as explained in Ross and Sorley to withdraw the special defence of automatism at the stage she did,” Lady Paton said.

But the judges allowed the appeal against sentence to the extent that the fine was reduced by half.

The judges observed that, even taking into account all the mitigatory factors, this was a “very grave incident” and it was it was “fortunate that the two motorcyclists were not more seriously injured.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lady Paton said: “As a result we do not consider the period of disqualification to be excessive. However, in relation to the fine, in view of the limited financial circumstances of the appellant, we do consider a fine of £1000 to be excessive. We quash that fine and substitute a fine of £500. So the appeal against sentence is allowed to that extent.”

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