Justice in a situation where justice is impossible?

Justice in a situation where justice is impossible?

Anne Sacoolas, a US citizen, has pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving via video link at a plea and case management hearing at the Old Bailey on 20 October 2022. The preliminary hearing took place at Westminster Magistrates Court on 28 September 2022, also remotely, where she was granted unconditional bail.  The CPS has accepted her plea despite having initially charged her with causing death by dangerous driving in December 2019. Sentencing has been adjourned to the end of November 2022, raising questions regarding the length and nature of the sentence and whether she will serve any custodial sentence in the UK, US or at all.

Ms Sacoolas was involved in the fatal incident outside a US military base in Northamptonshire leading to the death of Harry Dunn in August 2019, when she collided with Harry Dunn’s motorcycle while driving on the wrong side of the road. Ms Sacoolas left the UK days after the incident, with the US government asserting diplomatic immunity on her behalf. An extradition request to bring Ms Sacoolas to the UK was rejected by the US government, when President Trump was in office, in January 2020. President Biden’s administration has since confirmed that the decision refusing extradition is final. The UK Foreign Office has asserted that this “amounts to a denial of justice”.[1]

According to the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, Ms Sacoolas may face a sentence ranging from a medium level community order to five years in custody, significantly less than the maximum term of 14 years available under a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. Despite the fact that the incident took place over 3 years ago, Ms Sacoolas’ sentence may be reduced further when credit taking into account her guilty plea at an early stage of the proceedings is applied at the end of the process, potentially reducing her sentence by a third. Taking into account any mitigating factors, there is a realistic prospect that Ms Sacoolas may face a suspended sentence, with both parties having already indicated that they would accept such a decision. Despite her conviction the presiding judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, has confirmed that there is little that could be done to compel Ms Sacoolas to return to the UK to face sentencing.[2]

While possible, it may be thought unlikely that the US citizen will return to the UK voluntarily, albeit – as the judge indicated – her personal attendance would provide weighty evidence of genuine remorse. Harry Dunn’s family have reached a civil settlement in the US in 2021, and have lodged a US federal lawsuit claiming wrongful death.[3]

Given the length of time since the tragic event, the diplomatic element surrounding the proceedings, and the need for justice for the family of the victim, one would hope that the result will bring some closure to a process that will have proven difficult for all those involved. It might be inferred from the fact that Ms Sacoolas was allowed to enter her plea via video link, a process that is allowed by virtue of s51 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in regards to preliminary hearings and Crown Court trials, but which is not often used when a defendant is not in custody and which does not guarantee the ability of the court to enforce a decision as the defendant is outside of the jurisdiction, that the process as we have seen it unfold is the only manner in which it is possible to achieve some sense of justice in the given circumstances.[4]


[1] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/harry-dunn-death-crash-anne-sacoolas-plea-b1033957.htmlhttps://www.northants.police.uk/news/northants/news/in-court/2022/october/us-citizen-pleads-guilty-to-the-death-of-harry-dunn/https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/20/anne-sacoolas-admits-causing-death-of-harry-dunnhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-63328168https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-55849608

[2] https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/magistrates-court/item/causing-death-by-careless-or-inconsiderate-driving/https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/crown-court/item/causing-death-by-dangerous-driving/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/10/20/anne-sacoolas-pleads-guilty-causing-death-harry-dunn/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/20/anne-sacoolas-harry-dunn-driving-guilty/

[4] https://rozenberg.substack.com/p/anne-sacoolas-in-court

Shaul Brazil is a partner at BCL specialising in business crime and regulatory enforcement, acting for individuals and companies in complex cross-border matters. He has extensive experience advising on multi-jurisdictional corruption and fraud investigations, asset recovery proceedings (in the UK and overseas), and extradition proceedings (in particular, politically motivated requests). He has acted in numerous high-profile investigations and prosecutions brought by the SFO and many other UK and overseas enforcement authorities.

Evgeni Voznoi is a trainee solicitor in the Corporate and Financial Crime team. Joining the firm in 2019, he has since worked on the preparation for a defence to enforcement proceedings stemming from a cross border criminal judgment related to an alleged embezzlement, working closely with a number of foreign lawyers and Human Rights law experts.

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