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5 Criminal justice and deterrence

The criminal law has traditionally been seen as a primary counter-measure to car crime. This chapter covers offenders' views of the criminal justice system's response in terms of detection and punishment.

Offences and sanctions

If a vehicle is stolen to be sold, or parts of it are sold, the law of theft applies. Similarly, if a vehicle is broken into and property stolen from the car the offence is one of theft (and possibly criminal damage). However, if a vehicle is taken without intent to dispose of it (or parts of it), the necessary mental ingredient for theft—the 'intention of permanently depriving' the owner of it— is absent. Thus the temporary taker /joyrider cannot be convicted of the offence of theft of the vehicle; rather the offence is one of taking a conveyance without the owner's consent or other lawful authority (TWOC) under s 12 of the Theft Act 19681 (as amended by the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act, 1992).

The offence of taking without consent originally carried a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment, reduced to six months by virtue of s 37(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The 1988 Act, in line with a general shift towards summary trial to reduce waiting lists and the workload of the Crown Court, downgraded the offence to be triable only in the magistrates' courts. This attracted little attention at the time, but when car crime hit the headlines in 1991 the six month maximum sentence was attacked as inadequate, especially in cases where damage to property, death or injury had resulted.

Such was the level of concern, fuelled by daily media stories of high-speed police chases and road casualties involving illegally taken cars, that the introduction of tougher laws became inevitable. The Aggravated Vehicle- Taking Act came into force on 1 April 1992. The Act provides for an aggravated form of the TWOC offence under the 1968 Act—if, during the period when the vehicle was taken, it was driven dangerously, any damage to either the vehicle, or any other property was caused, or any injury was caused. The offence is triable either way and carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment


For an account of earlier provisions see Appendix A. 54

or five years if death is caused. Both drivers and passengers may be convicted of the offence.

No fault element beyond the occurrence of the aggravated consequences needs to be proved in order to secure a conviction. A defendant can only escape liability if he can prove either that any aggravated consequences happened before he look (he vehicle, or that he was noi near it at the time.1

Justifying aims of punishment

Sanctions applied to car offenders may be intended to achieve one or more basic nuns2—retribution (especially where death or personal injury has resulted); individual deterrence (dislike of the penalty designed to make the offender not want to repeat the offence); incapacitation (to stop further offending—eg, by

d i s q u a l i f i c a t i o n f r o m d r i v i n g o r a p e r i o d i n c u s t o d y ) ; a n d r e h a b i l i t a t i o n o r r e f o r m . 3 T h e r e i s a l s o t h e q u e s t i o n w h e t h e r t h e e x a m p l e s e t b y t h e l a w w i l l h a v e

a general deterrent effect. Offenders in the study were asked for their views on aspects of the criminal justice response to car crime—particularly the law, detection and punishment. The data gathered here is of interest for the development of criminal justice responses to car crime.

Knowledge and perception of the law

Almost all of the interviewees (93%) displayed a general knowledge of the offences involved in what they did:

TWOC, driving without insurance, driving while being disqualified— when you gel chased it's . . . reckless driving.

Most referred to TWOC or TDA4 and many added driving without a licence and insurance. Asked whether the taking of vehicles was wrong, only four per cent thought not. Of these one seemed unsure ('You know it's wrong but you don't seem to consider it wrong'), and two blamed car owners, either for not locking their vehicle or failing to get an alarm fitted.

Others reported not thinking about whether it was wrong to take cars (18%), but the majority (74%) acknowledged that it was:

1 This has been criticised in some quarters as it throws the onus on defendants to prove that they are noi guilty, rather than on the prosecution to prove guilt, prejudicing the presumption of innocence. 2 Current sentencing policy, contained in The While Paper, 'Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public' (Home Office 1990), and reflected in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 provides that sentences should: express public abhorrence of the crime; punish the offender; protect the public; provide compensation for victims or reparation to ihu community; and deter against re-o[Tending. 3 The success or otherwise of the criminal justice system in achieving these aims is outside the scope of this study, but for a recent comprehensive analysis of the relative effectiveness of various measures in reducing re-offending in young people, see Bottoms (Ed) (forthcoming). 4 The offence of taking and driving away a motor vehicle (TDA) preceded the TWOC offence. Many offenders and others still use the term.


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