How Do Driving Offence Cases Begin?
How cases begin will depend on the type of driving offence. Sometimes the police will stop a vehicle after suspecting it has been involved in an offence. This often happens with low-level offences such as speeding, red traffic offences and careless driving but also in more serious offences like drink driving and dangerous driving. In some cases, the police will warn the driver of the likelihood of prosecution for the offence. If the vehicle is not stopped at the time of the alleged offence, the police will often send a Notice of Intended Prosecution and request for driver details. This is because they are required to give a warning of prosecution for certain driving offences, usually within 14 days of the offence. The request for driver details is sent to establish who the driver was at the time. Without an admission from the driver, there may be no way of the police proving who was driving.
What is a Notice of Intended Prosecution?
A Notice of Intended Prosecution (also known as a NIP or NOIP) is a warning that the police are considering prosecuting you for an offence. Certain driving offences require that a warning is given to the driver or registered keeper (ie not both) at the time of the offence or within 14 days. If the Notice has not been properly served or is fundamentally defective, you will have a defence. The requirement to give an NIP does not apply to all driving offences. There are exceptions such as if there has been an accident. If you are not sure if a NIP has been properly served, you should get in touch. A Notice of Intended Prosecution is not the same as a request for driver information, even though they are often written on the same piece of paper. Find out more, here.
What is a Charge?
A charge is the details of the offence you are facing. You can be charged in person or in writing. Even if you are charged in person, you should receive a written charge in due course. If you are facing a non-imprisonable offence, the charge will usually be included on the Single Justice Procedure Notice. Driving offences that can result in imprisonment are often started by sending a written charge and postal requisition. The postal requestion is a requirement to appear before a magistrates’ court on a particular date to answer the charge.
What is a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
This is the first stage in court proceedings for most non-imprisonable offences. These notices are sent by the prosecution but require a response to the court. Once you receive this paperwork it means that your case is already in the court system and cannot revert back to a fixed penalty or a course if you would have been eligible. The paperwork will set out the charge and invite you to enter a plea with the court. You can do this online, or by post. If you instruct us, we will enter your plea for you. There are typically three options on the paperwork:
- Plead guilty – I don’t want to come to court
- Plead guilty – I want to come to court
- Plead not guilty – The court will set a date for a trial
How do I fill in a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
If you are not sure how to fill it in, you can call the helpline number on the paperwork. However, they won’t be able to provide you with any legal advice or how to plead. If you don’t know whether you should be pleading guilty or not guilty or whether you should request a court hearing, it is important to get advice before responding. We can advise you on this and even respond to the paperwork for you. We will need to have a proper consultation with you before we can advise you on the best option.
What Happens if I miss the 21 Day Deadline for Responding to a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
If you miss the deadline, you may not be able to enter your plea online. If you have only just missed it, you should still send in your plea by post or email to the court as a matter of urgency as your case may not yet have been dealt with. Sometimes Single Justice Hearings are not heard for weeks after the deadline expires. However, you must not work on this basis. You should ensure your plea is entered within time or you risk being convicted and sentenced in your absence. This usually means that you will receive a harsher penalty than if you had pleaded guilty. If this happens, your only option may be to appeal to the Crown Court.
What Happens After I've Entered My Plea?
If you have pleaded guilty by post or online and said that you do not want to go to court, the court will consider if it can sentence you based on the information you have provided. If you are facing 12 or more points or have committed an offence for which the court is considering disqualifying you, it will adjourn it for a full hearing. You should receive a notice of a new hearing date through the post. If the court feels able to sentence you without you having to attend, they will send you notices in respect of your fine and any licence endorsements through the post. This can take many weeks if there is a backlog of cases. If you have pleaded not guilty, the court will send you a notice of a new hearing date at which you will be expected to attend. It is especially important that you seek advice at an early stage if you are pleading not guilty. There are procedural matters and timescales that you may not understand or be aware of and it could prevent you from successfully defending your case.
What is a Notice of Proposed Driving Disqualification?
The court will send you one of these if it is considering disqualifying you for an offence or for an accumulation of penalty points. The notice will not ordinarily state how long it is considering banning your for. You will not find this out until after the ban has been imposed. It will give you a date after which you should not drive. If you drive after this date before receiving confirmation of the outcome from the court, you risk driving while disqualified which is very serious. If you don’t want to be disqualified (few people do!), you can ask for a hearing to explain your reasons to the court. This gives you the opportunity to avoid a ban or, to receive a shorter disqualification than you would have received if you did not attend. You may feel more comfortable being represented by a solicitor but may still have to attend court.
What Does a Solicitor do in Court?
Our solicitors are experienced advocates. This means that we can explain things to the court in a clear and persuasive way. In the courtroom, we will be the ones on your side and will ensure the court is made aware of the law and all of the important points. We will be with you to advise you and to keep you calm during what can be a very stressful time. Depending on the type of case you have, we may be able to do virtually all of the speaking for you. In other cases where you are required to give evidence, we will prepare you for what it likely to happen and the type of questions you may face. If there are prosecution witnesses, we can challenge their evidence by way of cross-examination. If there are inconsistencies or errors that could help your case, we will make the court aware of them. We will also spot any inadmissible evidence that the prosecution may want to present to the court and prevent them from doing so. Finally, we make legal arguments and submissions based on legislation and case law to help you to win your case.
Will I Need a Barrister in Court?
Not necessarily. We are very experienced advocates and can present your case in the same way as a barrister. Most barristers are not driving offence specialists so may not be as familiar with the law as we are because we deal with it daily. However, if you have a matter that is going to trial in the Crown Court, we usually advise that we instruct a barrister. We have a handful of specialists who we know and trust to represent you. We will work together to get you the best outcome.
Can I Get Legal Aid at Court and Have a Free Solicitor?
It depends on the seriousness of the offence. Free solicitors are usually only provided to minors or to those facing an imprisonable offence. This means you won’t automatically get a duty solicitor for speeding, careless driving and most other driving offences that are dealt with in the magistrates’ court.
What is a Case Management Hearing?
These are typically used when a not guilty plea has been entered. The matter may need a hearing to confirm what facts and issues of law are agreed and what is in dispute. Witnesses will need to be identified and a time estimate given so the court knows how long a case will last. Sometimes these hearings are used when one of the parties has not complied with its obligations, for example if the prosecution has not provided all of its evidence. In many straightforward cases, the court will not arrange a case management hearing unless it is requested.
Can the Court Give me a Driving Course for my Offence?
No, the Court doesn’t have the power to do this. Only the police can offer courses and it is discretionary. Once a case has reached the magistrates’ court, the option of doing a course is no longer available.
Can the Court Give me a Bigger Fine Instead of Points?
No, not instead of points. Most driving offences carry a minimum number of penalty points. This means that if you plead guilty or are convicted, the court must impose at least that number of points, even if they are sympathetic to your position. The court also has to apply the Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines when deciding on its sentence. If they want to move away from the guidelines, the court must give reasons for doing so.
Do I Have to Pay Prosecution Costs in Court?
If the police have properly brought your case to court you will usually be ordered to pay a contribution towards their costs. It ranges from court to court but is typically around £90 if you plead guilty at the first opportunity. If you are found guilty after a trial, you may be asked to pay around £620 or more in the magistrates’ court. The amount ordered is at the discretion of the court and can also depend on your ability to pay and the sentence imposed.
What Should I Wear to a Court Hearing?
You don’t need to wear a suit but should dress respectfully. Consider what would be appropriate for a job interview and you’re on the right lines. Try to avoid clothes such as ripped denim, shorts, and clothing that is very revealing.
If I go to Court, Will I Get a Criminal Conviction for Speeding?
It will show up on a CRB check but you will not have a criminal record. It is not usually treated any differently than if you had accepted a fixed penalty.
If you are convicted of an imprisonable offence such as drink driving, dangerous driving or drug driving, you will have a criminal record. However, it may not affect your job prospects as it will depend on the type of job you are applying for. A criminal record for bad driving may be viewed differently from a ‘dishonesty offence’ such as theft.
How Long Will Penalty Points Stay on my Driving Licence?
Penalty points stay ‘live’ for 3 years from the date of the offence. This means that the court will take them into account for totting up purposes if you commit a further offence within a 3 year period. The points run from the date of offence to the date of offence. It does not matter if the points expire before your case reaches court.
Points stay on your driving licence for 4 years from the date of the offence. After 3 years they will show as expired.
Insurers may ask you about any driving convictions for 5 years. If you do not provide accurate information, your policy could be void.