Yesterday, for the first time in Scotland, a motorist was sentenced to prison for causing the death of another by careless driving.

Such an outcome is only possible for offences committed since 18 August last year, when an amendment to the Road Traffic Act was finally brought into force, along with similar disposals (with a shorter maximum sentence) for causing death by driving while unlicensed, uninsured or disqualified.

Pressure for the change had come from some road safety campaigners, and a number of victims' families, though lawyers knew it would be difficult to apply fairly, as a momentary act of carelessness may have tragic consequences, or none at all. It's very much a "There but for the grace of God go I" situation: to achieve justice as between different offenders, the criminal courts should confine their attention to the level of fault, and families' loss should be recognised through compensation in a civil claim.

It is interesting that it has taken this length of time for a case to come up that was thought to deserve a prison term. Looking at the facts, which show a degree of culpability not found in most cases, it is not difficult to see why the sheriff reached this conclusion: the accused had never passed a driving test, was unlicensed and had no insurance. She hit a motorcyclist while turning right at a junction, killing him and seriously injuring his young son who was his passenger.

It would be premature to conclude that tragic cases with a relatively low degree of fault will not result in a jail term, and perhaps the law has still to be tested in such a case. But the signs to date are that prosecutors and judges recognise that retribution does not necessarily equal justice, and for that we should be grateful.