When a civil court means real justice

Jodi Gordon is Associate Solicitor with Pedestrian Law Scotland, part of Road Traffic Accident Law (Scotland) LLP
Jodi Gordon is Associate Solicitor with Pedestrian Law Scotland, part of Road Traffic Accident Law (Scotland) LLP
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On the 7th July 2015, at approximately 3.30am, Adam Ridley, a law student at the University of Edinburgh, was involved in a hit and run incident.

Adam had been out with friends and was returning to his flat when he suddenly heard a car behind him. He had no time to react. The car mounted the pavement, collided with him, and pushed him through the large glass window of a cafe. The driver reversed, then drove off, leaving Adam lying on the ground in a pile of blood and broken glass. Fortunately, Adam’s flat was nearby, so he was able to stagger back and get help.

Pic Greg Macvean - 07/07/2015 - Empire Cafe on the corner of Marchmont Road and Strathearn Road where a car mounted the pavement crashing into the cafe and hitting a man on the street at the same time before driving off.  Blood from the pedestrian is seen on the ground by broken glass.

Pic Greg Macvean - 07/07/2015 - Empire Cafe on the corner of Marchmont Road and Strathearn Road where a car mounted the pavement crashing into the cafe and hitting a man on the street at the same time before driving off. Blood from the pedestrian is seen on the ground by broken glass.

Adam spent two nights in the High Dependency Unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He was diagnosed as having sustained soft tissue injury to his knees and back, a severed tendon in his wrist and multiple lacerations for which he required over 70 stitches.

Thankfully, the police eventually traced the driver. He was charged in the Criminal Court and in October 2016, he finally pled guilty but escaped a jail sentence. He was placed on a three-year supervision order, fined £720, banned from driving for 27 months and ordered to complete 270 hours of unpaid community service.

Although it may seem like an injustice when a driver such as this is not punished by a jail sentence, the civil route can bring most comfort to those affected. The civil court can provide compensation. This can be a monetary award to those injured to help rebuild their lives and cover any future care costs. Or, where there has been a death, it can be an invaluable cash support to the bereaved family.

However, there is a disconnect between the criminal and civil system that deepens the level of distress of victims trying to get on with their lives.

In Adam Ridley’s case, liability was never in question, yet no money was made available by the insurance company for rehabilitation and no compensation for his very serious injuries was forthcoming until the criminal case was concluded 15 months after the accident. Communication with the Procurator Fiscal and the police was difficult and a major issue for a family trying to piece together what had happened.

It took another six months to reach a satisfactory outcome that adequately reflected Adam’s injuries. Sadly, this is not unusual.

When a 90-year-old man was struck and killed by a reversing van a year ago, the bereaved family, suddenly and highly unexpectedly, found themselves in the hands of the criminal justice system.

The incident happened in a heavily pedestrianised area in Lanarkshire where a van had been parked illegally on a double yellow line. Onboard camera footage clearly showed the vehicle suddenly reversing at great speed and running over the vulnerable pensioner.

Despite this, the police investigation was minimal and no charges were brought against the driver, which seems incredible in retrospect, given the clear evidence shown by the camera footage.

Even worse, the family were only eventually allowed access to the information the police held to help them understand what had
happened after months of waiting.

The communication between the Procurator Fiscal and family was dreadful. There were constant calls requesting updates to little effect and even a meeting to demand assistance.

The family was left traumatised by a system weighted heavily towards protecting the accused rather than supporting the victims.

The injured and bereaved in such cases do not get access to information until all criminal investigations are concluded. In the case of the 90-year-old, it was ten months after the incident that we learned that about the video footage clearly showing the driver to be at fault.

In 2016, 1,666 pedestrians were injured in road traffic incidents in Scotland. More than a quarter resulted in a death or serious injury. The cases of Adam Ridley and the 90-year-old pensioner raise serious questions around accidents and the treatment of victims and their families by the criminal justice system.

Something needs to change and that includes better co-ordination with the process of civil law. We either need to have a dual process where information is provided to the family’s solicitor at the same time as the police investigation, or there needs to be a designated court to deal only with road traffic incidents.

Jodi Gordon is associate solicitor with Pedestrian Law Scotland, part of Road Traffic Accident Law (Scotland) LLP