The criminal prosecution of RT has concluded in unusual circumstances – by endorsement of the indictment with a declaration that it be of no legal effect.
Tragically, RT died earlier this month, having succumbed to Coronavirus. COVID-19, together with underlying health issues, caused his premature death. The Crown Court, having been provided with a certified copy of the death certificate issued in respect of RT, endorsed the indictment accordingly.
Richard Dawson, instructed by Martin English and Maya Ravindran at Weighmans, has represented RT at every stage of these proceedings.
RT was originally charged with two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, arising out of his involvement in a collision in November 2018. In the course of driving home from work, for no apparent reason, RT drove across into the opposite carriageway, into the path of oncoming traffic. RT collided with a car and with a pedal cycle it was overtaking. Both the driver and the pedal cyclist sustained serious, life-changing, injuries.
This was a complicated case – both legally and medically.
RT asserted that he had experienced a syncopal episode – an unexplained blackout – while driving, which resulted in him losing control and driving into collision. Loss of consciousness was sudden and unexpected. There were no associated warning symptoms. It was unpredicted and unpredictable. It happened quickly – effectively instantaneously – and there was no opportunity to take any evasive action.
In law, RT relied on the defence of automatism – an involuntary movement of the body or limbs of a person. It was identified that RT’s involuntary actions arose from an internal, rather than an external, cause. Therefore, the proper defence was insane automatism – or insanity. A variety of legal complications flowed from the defence. Not least, the reversed burden of proof. Additionally, engagement of the M’Naghten Rules and the Trial of Lunatics Act 1883; and the restricted sentencing regime applicable on securing the special verdict: Not Guilty by reason of Insanity.
Medically, five different experts were instructed across three disciplines (cardiology, neurology and psychiatry).
Defence experts opined that the likely explanation for the blackout was that it was caused by a cardiac conduction disorder, resulting in transient asystole or severe bradycardia – bradycardic syncope.
Following the accident, RT sought medical assistance to clarify the cause of his loss of consciousness, so the cause of the accident. RT was referred for extensive medical testing. All post-accident testing was consistent with the diagnosis of bradycardic syncope.
The Prosecution tendered one of two experts they had instructed as he agreed with the Defence experts. Their sole remaining expert disagreed with the conclusion that the cause was of cardiac origin because he suggested that there was no evidence of similar symptoms or of heart disease, either pre- or post-accident, in the medical records. It is ironic that the death certificate perhaps provided the necessary evidence the Prosecution expert felt was missing – Cause of Death II: Congestive Cardiac Failure.
RT had no previous diagnosis with regard to cardiac issues – and certainly nothing that put him on notice, or should have put him on notice, of cardiac problems; or, specifically, cardiac problems that should have caused him to reconsider his permission to drive. However, given the unprecedented circumstances of RT prematurely losing his life, a Jury will no longer be required to determine his guilt or innocence.
Richard Dawson is an expert trial lawyer, specialising in road traffic law and defending drivers charged with offences arising out of catastrophic injury and fatal accidents.
To view Richard’s full profile, click here.