Whitlam’s Law: “The beginning of a conversation, not the end of a conversation”

By Amy Clowrey, Solicitor, Child Abuse Claims

On 17th October 2017, I travelled down to the Houses of Parliament with Pamela Whitlam and her daughter, Rachel Whitlam, to meet with Jesse Norman MP about the campaign to change the drink-drive laws. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to end the current disparity in sentencing for drink-drive offences committed on private land.

The campaign, Whitlam’s Law, has arisen as a result of the untimely death of Harry Whitlam. Harry was 11-years-old when he was hit by a drunk-driver on a farm in Rothwell. The driver was almost 3 times over the drink-drive limit when he hit Harry with a slurry trailer which he was reversing. The police investigated but the land was deemed private and as such the Crown Prosecution Service were unable to prosecute the driver under the Road Traffic Act 1988. Additionally, the drink-driving did not meet the threshold for recklessness and as such the driver could not be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter or wanton and furious driving under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Thankfully, as the accident happened during the course of employment, the Health and Safety Executive investigated and were able to prosecute the driver for failing to ensure the safety of others in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The prosecution took over 17 months and the drunk-driver walked away with a 16 month custodial sentence. Had the accident happened on public land the driver could have received up to a 14 year custodial sentence, an automatic driving ban, extended driving test and an unlimited fine.

Switalskis Solicitors have represented Pamela Whitlam in all legal matters arising as a result of Harry’s death and supported her throughout the duration of the Whitlam’s Law campaign.

This meeting arose following an Adjournment Debate on the 13th of July at which Alec Shelbrooke (MP for Elmet and Rothwell) made representations regarding Whitlam’s Law to the Minister for Transport, John Hayes. Following the submissions, Mr Hayes commented “it is not straightforward to adjust the existing law to improve vehicle operational safety. Yet, the statistics tell us that we should, and must, aspire to do more to prevent future accidents.”

The meeting with Jesse Norman was a positive one with Jesse Norman commenting that it was time to “rethink the relationship between drink-drive laws and public and private land”. He informed us that the “points had been landed” and that “proper legal consideration needs to be made in order to restore a sense of justice.”

The next step is to hear from the Department for Transport next year (we anticipate Spring) at which point Ministers will confirm how they propose to end this injustice. A consultation paper will then be published. Whilst, at this stage, the timeframe is unclear we are confident that Ministers are giving proper consideration to future legislative reform and we eagerly await confirmation of how they intend to proceed.