How Long After a Driving Offence Can You be Prosecuted?
The 6-month time limit for driving offences
I am often asked:
“how long do the police have to prosecute me for a driving offence?”
Most people are aware that there is a 6-month time limit for certain offences but don’t fully understand how it works. Unfortunately, the rule does not mean that you can breathe a sigh of relief as soon as 6 months have passed.
It may take 7 or even 8 months from the date of the offence for you to be notified. If this happens, it does not automatically mean that the charge is invalid.
You must never ignore a formal police or court notice without first taking legal advice, even if you think it has been served late.
I have summarised the basics on the 6 month time limit below.
The 6-month time limit applies to summary only offences
‘Summary only offences’ is the name given to offences that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court. Summary only offences include speeding, careless driving, drink or drug driving, driving while using a mobile phone and many others.
Most summary offences are subject to the 6-month rule requirement. However, there are certain exceptions.
‘Either-way’ or ‘indictable only’ offences are more serious and do not need to be prosecuted within 6 months. These offences include dangerous driving or causing serious injury or death by careless or dangerous driving. There is no statutory time limit for bringing a prosecution for either way or indictable only offences.
Ordinarily, the 6 month period runs from the date of the offence, but see below.
Exceptions to the 6-month rule
The law provides for exceptions to the ‘6 months from the date of offence’ rule if certain criteria apply. If applicable, the proceedings may be brought within 6 months of the circumstances of the offence being discovered. The proceedings must still be brought within three years after the commission of the offence.
This exception applies to the following offences:
- Obtaining a driving licence, or driving, while disqualified
- Using a vehicle without insurance
- Forgery offences such as the making of false statements in relation to driving licences, MOTs and obtaining insurance.
When does the prosecution begin?
This is the tricky bit! As a result, there have been many cases on this point.
The material date is not when you receive notification of the prosecution. The important date is when the charge is issued. It also depends upon the procedure used eg. Single Justice Procedural Notice or Postal Requisition what else is required.
To begin proceedings, the prosecutor must issue:
- a written charge and requisition, or
- a written charge and single justice procedure notice.
The issue date is not necessarily the date it is posted. Therefore, a prosecution may still be brought in time even if it is not posted out to you until after 6 months have passed.
What is the ‘charge?’
The charge is the words used to explain the offence you are being prosecuted with. The charge should:
- describe the offence in ordinary language, and
- identify any legislation that creates it; and
- include such details of the commission of the offence as to make clear what is alleged.
When is a charge issued?
Nowadays this is usually done electronically. It often involves the police entering the details into a computer system which is then sent to the court. Provided the essential details are complete, the charge is issued at this point.
For this reason, you won’t routinely be notified as soon as the charge is issued. You will usually have to wait until the documents are posted or hand-delivered to you. This may be several days, weeks or even months later.
What should you do if you think you have been prosecuted too late?
Get legal advice as soon as possible. Do not ignore paperwork just because you think it contains an error. This can be costly and damage your case if you don’t deal with it carefully. The law in this area is too complex to explain fully in a blog post so please get in touch with our Nottingham Driving Solicitors for bespoke advice.