Specialist prosecutors needed for road death prosecutions

Crown Prosecutors are failing to provide a much needed specialist role prosecuting fatal road traffic incidents largely because of a lack of tailor-made training, a joint inspection report published today says.

Get the report

Joint Inspection of the investigation and prosecution of fatal road traffic incidents

Inspectors found there was no process to accredit specialists, national guidance was often ignored at operational level and monitoring of performance and casework outcomes was “fragmentary or non-existent.”

HMCPSI and HMIC’s ‘Joint Inspection of the investigation and prosecution of fatal road traffic incidents’ found both police and Crown Prosecution Service aspire to deliver high standards but much work is needed to turn that into a reality.

Police overall were professional and thorough but needed to prioritise the valuable work of family liaison officers who perform a sensitive role in reassuring both victims’ families and the public that a road death investigation is just as important as all other homicide cases.

The quality of the CPS’s decision making was judged to be good in fewer than half the 72 cases analysed. Common failings included poor case analysis and strategy and inadequate references to sentencing guidelines.

Recommendations for area specialists to be responsible for pre-charge decisions and to retain conduct of their cases were made in HMCPSI’s 2008 review – but little progress has been made since then towards a coherent model.

HMCPSI Chief Inspector Michael Fuller said:

“Although the findings of today’s report show a genuine desire on the part of prosecutors to deliver a specialist role and quality of service, the structures in place do not make this possible. CPS must reinvigorate its approach to handling prosecutions arising from fatal road traffic incidents and recognise the pressing need for a specialist prosecutor role.

“A set of eligibility criteria for the role, a structure to handle the caseload and a bespoke training package would all play an important part in giving this work the high priority it merits. Only in this way can prosecutors attain the necessary knowledge, communication skills and experience to deliver the consistent quality of decision making required in what is a very demanding and specialised area of work.”

“CPS still has to make progress to match the degree of specialism delivered in rape and serious sexual offences.”

HMIC Inspector Dru Sharpling CBE said:

“I am pleased to see that overall, police investigations of fatal road traffic incidents are both thorough and professional. Despite this, it is clear that more could be done to develop and promote the training for officers who perform investigatory and family liaison roles when a road death occurs. Additionally forces need to allow officers adequate time to liaise with and support victims’ families during these investigations.”

“I would like to encourage police forces and the College of Policing to ensure officers are fully equipped to perform their roles and to support and reassure the families affected by road deaths. Police forces need to ensure Family Liaison Officers are given the time to perform their role effectively. It is good a specialist team of police investigators is available in every area to attend the scene and investigate road deaths.”

Inspectors found the performance of police staff generally good and often excellent in their service to bereaved families. The same could not be said of the CPS whose performance in this sensitive area was in many cases poor and well short of its own guidance. Prosecutors needed to be more responsive and empathetic to make victims and witnesses’ experiences of the criminal justice system less distressing.

Get the report

Joint Inspection of the investigation and prosecution of fatal road traffic incidents


  1. The six police forces (and their respective CPS Areas) inspected were: Durham – North East, Lancashire – North West, Devon and Cornwall – South West, Metropolitan Police – London, Kent – South East and Hampshire – Wessex.
  2. For interviews with HMCPSI Chief Inspector Michael Fuller contact William Mach on 0207 271 2484.