Pleading guilty to a driving offence at court
If you have a sentencing hearing in the Crown Court for a serious driving offence, you will be represented by a specialist motoring law barrister. You can plead guilty to some motoring offences in writing, either online or by post. If you need help to plead guilty in writing, get in touch.
Some offences require you to go to court to enter your plea, or for sentencing. You will need to go to court if:
- You will reach 12 or more penalty points and are at risk of a totting up disqualification
- You have committed a more serious offence and are at risk of disqualification, imprisonment or a community order.
If you are supposed to go to court and do not attend, the court is likely to deal with your case in your absence. This is likely to result in you being convicted or sentenced without your knowledge. The court could also issue a warrant for your arrest. If you are on bail for an offence such as drink driving, you would commit a separate offence if you did not attend.
If for any reason you cannot attend court, you must contact the court and let them know why.
Who will be at your court hearing?
In the Magistrates’ Court, there will be two or three magistrates, who are not legally qualified but have had some legal training. Alternatively, there may be one District Judge (DJ) who will be an experienced solicitor or barrister.
In front of the Magistrates or DJ, there will be a legal adviser. They are qualified solicitors or barristers. He or she is there to assist the court and ensure that the law is applied correctly. They should not influence the decision of the court.
Facing the legal adviser will be a prosecutor acting on behalf of the police. They are also qualified solicitors or barristers.
If you have representation, your solicitor or barrister will stand on the opposite side to the prosecutor, facing the legal adviser. You will sit in the dock or in a chair designated for the defendant.
There may be press in court or member of the public. Most criminal proceedings are held in open courts so the public is permitted to go into the courtroom.
Witnesses are not required to attend court unless there is going to be a trial. The court will not ask them to go to the first court hearing. If you are pleading guilty and your case has not been listed for a trial, the police and other witnesses will not be there.
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This is an overview of the procedure of a guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court.
The legal adviser asks you as the defendant to confirm your name, date of birth and address. They also read the charge to you and you enter your plea of guilty or not guilty.
The prosecutor will give the court a summary of the circumstances of the offence. They may say some things that you disagree with, but you should not interrupt them. Your solicitor will get the opportunity to address those points later when they put forward mitigation. The prosecutor may refer to the Sentencing Guidelines and will also ask for a contribution to the cost of bringing the case.
Your solicitor will explain the circumstances to the court in an attempt to get you a lighter sentence. This can include reasons or explanations of why you committed the offence and also details of the impact it would have on you depending on the sentence imposed.
It will often be appropriate for your lawyer to hand up any references or other documents which support the mitigation.
The prosecution will make another closing speech. The defence will make its closing speech. This is the point when a good solicitor will highlight the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and refer to any points made in the opening speech which were not proven.
The Magistrates or DJ may leave the room to make their decision or they may remain in the court.
They will come back into court and ask you to stand up before announcing their decision. With more serious offences, the court may want you to speak with a probation officer before making a sentencing decision. Depending on the availability of probation, the case may need to be adjourned to another date.
If you have to pay a fine, you may be asked how you soon you can make payment. The court may allow you to pay the fine in instalments if you will have difficulty paying it all at once.
Pleading guilty to a motoring offence FAQs
Do I need a solicitor to plead guilty?
It depends on your circumstances but it is advisable if you are:
- worried about the hearing and would like the reassurance of having someone on your side who knows what to do.
- at risk of disqualification or penalty points that will result in the revocation of your licence.
- not sure if you are guilty and would like a second opinion.
- facing a serious offence which carries a possible risk of imprisonment, such as drink driving, dangerous driving or failing to stop or report.
- worried that you may not be able to express what you want in court.
If you think you can represent yourself but would like some guidance, we can arrange a conference with you to explain the procedure, answer any questions and advise you on how to prepare for court.
Does it look worse if I have a solicitor come to court with me?
No, it will not look worse. If anything, it should convince the court that you are taking the matter very seriously. It will not make you look guilty.
We have even represented other solicitors in court who do not have a background in criminal law.
What should I wear to a magistrates court?
You should dress respectfully in the way you would for a job interview. Ideally, you should avoid denim and tracksuits if possible. Do not wear ripped jeans or shorts to a court or you risk getting turned away.
If you have to go to court straight from work and do not have time to get changed, do not worry as the court should be understanding.
Can I take someone with me to court?
Yes, you can take someone with you for support. It is best to keep the number of people to a minimum as there is not always enough room in the court for everyone.
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