These notices are intended to reduce the need for Defendants to attend court by enabling motorists to convey essential information to the court by post or online. A Defendant can tender a plea to an allegation and indicate a preference for either attending or not attending court. Such notices don’t deal with offences which can result in imprisonment but sentences can, and often do, involve disqualification from driving. So, if your driving licence is vital to you and your family you should ensure that you fully understand your options before responding. If you put your head in the sand hoping it will go away you are likely to be disappointed.
‘Guilty’ or ‘Not Guilty’?
Your first decision is likely to be how to plead. Do you admit or deny the offence? If you have been charged with speeding the issues may be relatively straightforward (so long as you can recall whether you were or you weren’t exceeding the limit). However, if you are charged with an offence which can take many different forms your decision may be more complex. Suppose you are charged with driving without due care and attention, for example. Make sure that you understand the difference between feeling aggrieved and having a defence that will stand up in a court of law. If you are going to plead ‘not guilty’ make sure you fully understand the court procedure and how to conduct your case in court. There is nothing worse than contesting the case, as you believe you have been wrongfully accused, and then coming away from court frustrated because you didn’t understand the court procedure and feeling you did not receive a fair hearing (especially if you have just lost your licence).
You also need to bear in mind that contesting the case means you will lose the credit for a ‘guilty’ plea to which you would otherwise have been entitled. In other words, if you are sentenced following a trial, as opposed to a ‘guilty’ plea, your sentence will be more severe (not to mention the increase in delay, stress and costs that would also inevitably follow.) Of course, if you are triumphantly acquitted, hopefully, it will all have felt worthwhile.
Completing the Single Justice Procedural Notice
If you are contesting the case you must ensure that you set out the basis of your defence and, if prosecution witness statements have been served, state which prosecution witnesses are challenged and why. This is so that only those prosecution witnesses whose evidence is challenged in a material respect by the defence need to attend court. Those whose evidence is unchallenged can be read as part of the prosecution case. You need to be very careful in understanding this aspect of the case as if a statement is read as unchallenged evidence you may be prevented from contesting any aspect of that statement in court.
If you are pleading ‘guilty’ you need to decide whether to indicate a wish to attend court or not for sentencing. You should bear in mind that even if you indicate you don’t wish to attend that the Single Justice has the power to require you to attend if s/he thinks the court should consider disqualification as part of the sentence. If you believe that the court is bound to consider disqualification you may as well indicate a wish to attend. If you do this there will be little advantage in setting out your mitigation on the notice. If you then obtain legal representation for the court appearance your lawyer won’t be hampered by any misjudged written representations that you had made when setting out your mitigation in writing.
If the court has power to endorse penalty points on your record then it also has the power, in a suitable case, to disqualify you from driving. There are many pitfalls you need to try to avoid. For example, someone who already has penalty points on their driving record should try to avoid accumulating a total of 12 or more as this is likely to result in a a penalty points disqualification of at least 6 months. Alternatively someone who is facing an offence for which the court is likely to consider either a ban or the endorsement of penalty points may wish to indicate ‘guilty’ don’t wish to attend court and try to avoid the need to attend court for consideration of disqualification by sending in a written mitigation statement. However, once again, there is a need to ensure one does not aggravate one’s own situation by literally writing an account which makes matters more serious, rather than less, from a sentencing perspective.
If your diving licence is at stake, and possibly your livelihood too, then you should take the utmost care in ensuring you understand the Notice and your various options. Whichever course of action you take there will be consequences. If you fully understand matters at an early stage then you can plan your course of action from an informed position rather than, potentially, receiving a series of unpleasant surprises further down the line. Rather than taking a chance with advice from friends and family and / or looking online you could, of course, speak to us at Kent Traffic Law without charge or obligation. We deal with such cases regularly and, if your licence is at risk, should be happy to review your situation over the phone. You may well find that in that one call issues are raised which you hadn’t considered before. What are you waiting for?