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Have you received a Single Justice Procedure Notice?

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What is a Single Justice Procedure Notice?

These Notices arrive in the post and mean that you have been accused of one or more motoring offences.  Don’t panic; the fact that this procedure has been used means that you are being accused of a non-imprisonable offence such as speeding, driving without insurance, using a mobile phone, or careless driving, for example.  This procedure will not be used for offences which can be subject to imprisonment such as drink driving, drug driving or failing to stop and exchange details after an accident.  You should though be aware that any offence for which penalty points can be endorsed also gives the court the option to consider a disqualification from driving. Therefore, you should proceed cautiously with due regard to the powers of the court.

How should the Single Justice Procedure Notice be completed?

The Notice can be completed online or sent back in the post.  If you plead ‘Guilty’ you can opt to be sentenced in absence or have your case listed in court.  If you wish to contest the case you would plead ‘Not Guilty’ and, in due course, you will be notified of the date of your trial which will take place in a Magistrates’ Court.  If contesting a case you should be particularly careful as to how you complete the Notice.  If the prosecution evidence has been enclosed, in the form of witness statements, for example, you will be expected to indicate the principal areas of dispute.  Usually you would have to state which witness evidence is challenged so that when your trial is listed the relevant witnesses can be in attendance for questioning.  If you fail to do this properly witnesses may not attend court with the result that their evidence may be read, without challenge, at your trial.  If this occurs the court will usually accept their evidence which could mean that you would lose your case. 

In some cases most or all of the evidence is not served with the Notice but subsequently.  Then, at that stage, you would have to consider requiring the attendance of witnesses (depending on the extent of challenge to their evidence).  Once again, if you don’t indicate that the evidence is to be challenged, or don’t indicate in time, then the evidence may be read as unchallenged at your trial.

What can go wrong?

Sometimes people don’t reply to the Notice in time or at all.  If you don’t you may be convicted and sentenced for the offence in your absence, without having any opportunity to put forward a defence or mitigation. 

Sometimes people just do not understand the options or the law applicable to the offences alleged. This can lead to people denying offences of which they are in fact, on their own account, Guilty’.  Conversely, people sometimes admit offences for which, based on their own account, they are in fact ‘Not Guilty’.  To give just one example of common misunderstandings: motorists sometimes deny mobile phone allegations as they were not using the phone to make or receive a call.  However, simply touching a phone whilst driving means that you commit the offence!  The criminal law and procedure can be confusing! 

Sometimes clients who have tendered written ‘Guilty’ pleas and opted for being sentenced in absence are surprised to receive summonses to court for consideration of a disqualification (either because they are being considered for a penalty points disqualification or for a discretionary disqualification).  This can occur as the court retains a power to summons the Defendant to attend in cases in which it is considering disqualification; a Defendant cannot avoid the possibility of being disqualified simply by opting for sentence in absence.  Of course, in this situation, when Defendants realise they have to attend court they often then contact lawyers for the first time. However, do bear in mind that the lawyer cannot wish away the written mitigation already sent in by the client; if a client has misguidedly set out matters in writing which aggravate rather than mitigate his case the lawyer may have a harder task than would otherwise have been necessary to avoid his client being disqualified!

Conclusion

Always consider whether you have a defence or whether ‘special reasons might apply.  In the latter case you may be able to avoid a ban or endorsement with penalty points (even though you admit the offence).  If you wish to plead ‘Guilty’ but attend court for sentencing be very cautious about setting out your mitigation on the form as people sometimes set out matters which aggravate the offence(s) in the eyes of the court.  Bear in mind that if the offence(s) you are admitting take your points tally to 12 or more (for offences committed within 3 years of each other) that you will be liable to a ‘totting’ or penalty points disqualification of at least 6 months.  In any case in which disqualification is to be considered, such as speeding grossly in excess of the limit, you will be called to court for consideration of a ban even if you elect to be sentenced in absence.  Finally, do ensure that you read all of the papers very carefully so that you fully understand your options.  Failure to do so could result in a conviction or a ban which, with careful preparation and presentation, could have been avoided.

Is that all clear?  If not you are more than welcome to call, without obligation, to discuss your case.

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