Motoring Offences: How Proceedings are Commenced using a Single Justice Procedure Notice
Summary Only Motoring Offences: Single Justice Procedure Notices & The Charge and Requisition Procedure
Historically, criminal proceedings were always commenced by charging a person in a police station with an offence, or by servicing a summons on the accused, until the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was introduced.
This legislation set out a new way of commencing proceedings in most Summary only offences, which is known as the charge and requisition procedure. Summary only offences are ones that can only be tried in a magistrates’ court.
The list of offences that fall within this classification is very long, but they include most driving offences – unless it involves someone driving dangerously or where there was a fatality. So speeding, driving through a red light, using a mobile phone at the wheel and careless driving are all examples of summary only offences.
Nowadays, prosecutors commonly begin proceedings for these type of offences via the Single Justice Procedure. This procedure can only be used if the offence is not one which is punishable with imprisonment ie. not drugs and alcohol driving offences. the Single Justice Procedure became available on 13 April 2015.
What is a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 amended section.29 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This created a new procedure which allows some prosecutors to institute criminal proceedings in a slightly different way. This gives the police, DVSA or other specified agencies the power to issue a Single Justice Procedure Notice. Essentially, this is a written charge together with a requisition with a requirement to indicate a plea and confirm whether he or she (if pleading guilty) will allow the court to deal with the case in the absence of the parties. A copy of both the written charge and the requisition must be served on the court.
Part 24.9 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2015/1490 (CPR) set out the form and content of the written charge and requisition.
Both the charge and the requisition must be issued at the same time as per s.29(2) CPR. See below for more information about Single Justice Procedure time limits.
The Written Charge
There is no prescribed form for the charge. It should identify the prosecutor and also the defendant. The charge must contain a general statement of the offence/s in non-technical language and state the relevant legislation. It should also contain information about the alleged conduct.
As well as the Written Charge, among other things, the Single Justice Procedure Notice must also contain:
- a summary of the evidence on which the prosecution case is based;
- details of any previous convictions or matters which the prosecutor considers relevant*;
- a notice allowing the defendant to confirm whether he/she pleads guilty in absence, not guilty, or wants to plead guilty in person.
*This doesn’t have to include minor driving convictions, but the defendant should be informed that their driving record will be made available to the court.
Service and Time Limits
The documents must be served on the defendant by the prosecutor, with a copy of both also being served on the court specified in the requisition. The prosecutor can serve the documents on an individual by handing them to the defendant or by leaving them at, or sending them through the post to, an address where it is believed they would receive them. They cannot be served by email, fax or document exchange.
For summary only offences, the prosecutor must issue a written charge within six months of the alleged offence, unless legislation states otherwise. If the charge is issued out of time, then there can be no conviction for the offence to which the charge relates.
Please note that the posting date of the Single Justice Procedure Notice is rarely the same as the issue date. You should, therefore, seek legal advice before attempting to run a defence that the charge has been issued outside the six-month time-limit.
If you receive a Single Justice Procedure Notice, you should enter your plea within 21 days of the postal date. If you narrowly miss the date, it is still possible that your case will not have been dealt with. Therefore you should contact the court to see if you still have time to enter your plea. Failing that, you should enter your plea as promptly as possible.
Why is the Single Justice Procedure used?
It enables cases to be dealt with by a single magistrate sitting with a legal adviser on the papers without the attendance of either a prosecutor or the defendant. Inevitably, avoiding a full court hearing saves the court time. As a result, it saves the government, but not usually the defendant, money.
For this reason, it may not necessarily be in your best interests to plead guilty without a proper court hearing.