Have you received a Single Justice Procedure Notice for a Driving Offence?
If so, are you struggling to know what to do with it? Then read on...
What are Single Justice Procedure Notices?
These are relatively new and have been introduced supposedly to save court time. The Police are using Single Justice Procedure Notices in conjunction with speeding and other motoring offences. The Police issue Single Justice Procedure Notices for non-imprisonable offences which can only be dealt with by a Magistrates’ Court.
Often, the types of offences dealt with by Single Justice Procedure Notice may be uncontested, and therefore (theoretically) a court hearing is unnecessary. Whilst there is some logic behind the theory, in reality, they’re still being issued for offences which really warrant a court hearing. For example, higher level speeding offences eg. 110mph in a 70mph limit are very likely to result in a disqualification. Therefore, when the court makes such a decision, the defendant driver should be present. In such a case, the court is likely to list the matter for a hearing in order for the driver to attend.
Unlike with a Summons, the defendant driver must complete the Single Justice Procedure Notice. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't seek advice before responding. It may be that you do in fact have a defence or that there are Special Reasons available to you. These could make a significant difference to the outcome. The Single Justice Procedure could have the effect of encouraging some defendants to plead guilty to an offence because it appears to 'make light' of the offence by suggesting a solicitor is not necessary.
Even if you don't have a defence or special reasons, it's important that you make the court aware of any mitigating circumstances. It's also important that you tell the court about the impact various penalties would have on you and/or others. You may feel comfortable explaining this yourself, or you may be worried that you will 'say the wrong thing' so that the court may misinterpret it. You may be worried that you will miss something out. It may be that you don't know what sort of factors are relevant to the court's decision-making process.
It's entirely up to you if you'd like help or not, and we're here if you need us.
Receipients of a Single Justice Procedure Notice may feel they are being put under pressure to plead guilty. The notices refer to a discount of 33% for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity and warns of the likelihood of increased prosecution costs if you don't. This does not mean that you should plead guilty to an offence if you are not guilty of it.
However, it is beneficial to give consideration to your plea before returning the documents or entering a plea online. If you do not have a defence, then it is usually best to plead guilty as soon as possible to preseve credit and to get the best outcome. You should be aware that it can be difficult to retract a guilty plea once entered, so if you are in doubt, get advice before entering your plea.
Conversely, it is very easy to change your plea from not guilty to guilty. You can do this at any stage in the proceedings, even in the middle of a trial. Of course the later you leave it, the less credit you will receive for your plea.
If you don't respond to a Single Justice Procedure Notice, the court is likely to proceed in your absence. This means that you could be convicted of a motoring offence without having the opportunity to put forward your side of the story. If you are convicted in absence, you are unlikely to be given credit for pleading guilty so the fine you receive is likely to be greater than if you had entered a guilty plea.
An example of how the discount applies for pleading guilty
Say you are convicted in absence of a speeding offence by travelling at 40mph in a 30mph limit, you are likely to receive a fine of around £660, with costs of around £85 and a victim surcharge of £66, making a total of £811.
The financial penalty you would have received if you had pleaded guilty would depend on your income details you provided to the court. If for example you earn £400 per week (after tax), you would normally receive a fine of no more than £200 (although usually even less) with costs of £85 and a vicitim surcharge of £30, making a total of £315.
The discount will not apply to penalty points imposed or a period of disqualification. If you have provided mitigation ie. an explanation of why you committed the offence to the court, this can influence the points/disqualification imposed.
Not necessarily. The Single Justice Procedure Notices use standard wording regardless of the seriousness of the offence. The theory is that it avoids unnecessary court hearings. However, if disqualification from driving is a possibility, the court must warn the driver beforehand. This usually the court inviting the driver to a court hearing. Driving whilst disqualified is a very serious offence which can result in a prison sentence. For that reason, courts must attempt to ensure the driver is aware of the ban before imposing it. So, depending on the offence and the number of points on your licence, you may still need to attend court at some point.
Also, you will have to attend court if you contest the matter and it proceeds to a trial. The same goes for if you intend to put forward special reasons or exceptional hardship to avoid points or disqualification.
The following are examples of when a later court appearance will be likely:
- A driver has six penalty points for two speeding offences. The driver committed the speeding offences in the three years prior to the current alleged mobile phone offence. Driving while using a mobile phone is an offence for which the court will impose a minimum of six penalty points (unless there are special reasons). The court won't be able to deal with an offence of driving while using a mobile phone without the driver attending court because the driver would be facing a 'totting up' disqualification.
- A driver is facing an allegation of driving at 55mph in a 30mph limit. The magistrates' court sentencing guidelines suggest that the court should impose a period of disqualification of between 7-56 days or six points. The court should request that the driver should attend court so it can consider disqualification. This does not mean that the court will definitely impose a driving ban, but it is a very real possibility.
In either of these cases, it is important to seek legal advice at the earliest possible stage.
If you've received a single justice procedure notice, give us a call. Similarly, if you'd like to discuss a possible defence or special reasons argument for speeding or any other motoring offence, then get in touch.
It will depend on the nature of the mistake as to whether or not it can be amended at court. If for example, your name has been spelled incorrectly, it doesn't automatically mean that the notice is invalid and you can ignore it. The police can ask the court to allow them to amend the papers and unless you are able to show that you would suffer prejudice as a result, the court will grant the application.
If there is a significant error which results in you being disadvantaged, the court may either choose not to allow the amendment to be made. The other option is that the court may allow the amendment but grant an adjournment for you to prepare your case further.
Certain errors cannot be rectified such as if an entirely different name or entity is stated on the Single Justice Procedure Notice. You should seek advice before pleading not guilty solely on the basis that a notice is defective.
You should contact the court immediately to let them know the situation. Ideally, you should enter your plea as soon as possible to allow the court to deal with your case if it has not yet been heard. Often matters are not dealt with until 28 days or more after the postal date on the Single Justice Procedure Notice. However, you should enter a plea within the deadline if at all possible. If you do not, you risk the court convicting you in absence.
Don't feel under pressure to enter a plea if you have not had time to consider it properly. If in doubt, you may choose to enter a not guilty plea whilst you take advice, but this can impact on the credit you receive (see the questions 'what happens if I don't respond'). If you are going to plead guilty, you should do so at the earliest possible opportunity. It is however easier to change a plea of not guilty, to one of guilty, than to change it the other way around.
If you have missed the 21 day deadline for responding to a Single Justice Procedure Notice, then take advice as a matter of urgency.
Yes we can, provided we have your full instructions and have advised you accordingly. If you instruct us, we will deal with the court on your behalf, enter your plea, deal with any issues and put forward any mitigation or defence as appropriate. You may still have to attend court at a later date, depending on the nature of your case. We can represent you at that hearing.
Please do contact us as soon as possible so that we can ensure we are able to meet any deadlines. That said, if your deadline is looming or has already passed, we will still be delighted to help you.
The prosecuting authority (usually the police alone or together with the Crown Prosecution Service) makes the decision about whether to proceed with an allegation. It is not up to the court to make this decision. A court can only dismiss a case in the following circumstances:
- The prosecution issues a Notice of Discontinuance, offers no evidence or withdraws an allegation (this means that the police or Crown Prosecution Service are choosing not to proceed).
- The court accepts a submission of no case to answer - often referred to as a 'half-time submission'. This is where the court decides that at the conclusion of the prosecution case, no reasonable jury could convict the defendant.
- The court finds the defendant not guilty after a trial.
That said, sometimes the court may indirectly put pressure on the prosecution by questioning its decision to proceed where it is clear that the case against the defendant is extremely weak. This rarely happens at Single Justice Procedure Stage unless without prior agreement between the court and the prosecution.
The new Single Justice Procedure Notice is diffferent from the longer standing Summons procedure and the rules are different. Whereas with a Summons, the prosecutor would 'lay the information before the court' and the court would then issue a Summons, the Single Justice Procedure is dealt with by the prosecuting authority. With a Summons, the information would have to be laid before the court within 6 months of the date of the offence.
The Single Justice Procedure requires the police prosecutor to issue a Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice within 6 months of the offence. The police prosecutor must issue a Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice to the court (usually electronically) within the 6 month time limit. The Single Justice Procedure Notice may not be posted out to you within 6 months, but the law does not appear to require that.
However, the whole purpose of the 6 month time limit for summary only offences is presumably to allow people facing less serious offences to be able to 'draw a line under the matter' after a reasonable period of time. For this reason it seems unfair if the Single Justice Procedure Notice is sometimes not sent out for 7 months or more. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a relevant Divisional Court decision binding on lower courts but one is currently pending. Hopefully, once that case is determined it will provide certainty for those receiving Single Justice Procedure Notices well outside 6 months. We will keep you posted!