Single Justice Procedure Notices for Driving Offences
Have you received a Single Justice Procedure Notice for a driving offence?
We can take the stress out of responding to the court. Our specialist driving offence lawyers can advise you on your plea and strategy so you get the best outcome. If appropriate, we can contact the police to invite them to withdraw or reduce the charge.
If you are pleading guilty, we can write your mitigation for you to reduce the penalty. Our experience in these matters means we know what factors the court can and should take into account. We also know what not to write if you want the best result.
What are Single Justice Procedure Notices?
The courts introduced these to increase their effectiveness when dealing with minor driving offences. The Police use Single Justice Procedure Notices in conjunction with speeding, careless driving, using a mobile phone while driving, driving without insurance and other motoring offences. The law permits the use of Single Justice Procedure Notices for non-imprisonable matters which can only be dealt with by a Magistrates’ Court.
Single Justice Procedure Notices for offences that are potentially imprisonable. This means they should not be used for driving offences such as drink driving, dangerous driving or failing to stop or report an accident. If the police charge you with these more serious offences, they will often send you a postal requistion and written charge.
Single Justice Procedure Notice Summary
How do I respond?
SJPNs are sent by the police but require a response to the Magistrates’ Court.
You should therefore enter your plea online or by post to the Court named in the notice before the 21-day deadline expires. You should seek advice before entering your plea if you have any doubts about how to respond.
Why are they used?
SJPNs are intended to be a faster and more efficient way of dealing with some more minor driving offences.
Many offences can be dealt with at a Single Justice Hearing which means that the defendant does not need to attend.
Why might I need to go to the Magistrates Court?
If you plead not guilty, request a hearing or if you are at risk of a driving disqualification your case will usually be adjourned at the Single Justice Hearing.
You will then be notified of any future court date by post.
Single Justice Procedure Notices FAQs
What should I do if I receive a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
You must complete the Single Justice Procedure Notice confirming your plea within the 21-day time limit. We can respond to your Single Justice Procedure Notice if you instruct us.
Except in the most straight-forward of cases, it is best to seek advice before responding. You may have a defence to the allegation or that there are Special Reasons available to you. These could make a significant difference to the outcome.
Even if you don’t have a defence or special reasons, you must make the court aware of any mitigating circumstances. It’s also vital that you tell the court about the impact various penalties would have on you and others. You may feel comfortable explaining this yourself, or you may be worried that you will ‘say the wrong thing’ so that the court may misinterpret it. You may be concerned that you will miss something out. It may be that you don’t know what sort of factors are relevant to the court’s decision-making process.
What happens if I don't respond?
If you don’t respond to a Single Justice Procedure Notice, the court is likely to proceed in your absence. This means that the court could convict you of a motoring offence without having heard your side of the story. If the court convicts you in your absence, you are unlikely to be given credit for pleading guilty, so the fine you receive is likely to be higher than if you had entered a guilty plea.
An example of how the discount applies for pleading guilty
Say you are convicted in your absence of a speeding offence by travelling at 40mph in a 30mph limit, you are likely to receive a fine of around £660, with costs of approximately £85 and a victim surcharge of £66, making a total of £811.
The financial penalty you would have received if you had pleaded guilty would depend on the income details you provided to the court. If for example, you earn £400 per week (after tax), you would typically receive a fine of no more than £200 (although usually even less) with costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £30, making a total of £315.
The discount will not apply to penalty points imposed or a period of disqualification. If you have provided mitigation, i.e. an explanation of why you committed the offence to the court, this can influence the points/disqualification imposed. Have a look at our fine calculator for speeding for more information.
Can I still accept a Fixed Penalty or driving course once I've received a Single Justice Procedure Notice?
Unfortunately once a Single Justice Procedure Notice has been issued, it’s in the court system and can’t be changed back to a Fixed Penalty Notice or driver awareness course. You may be able to plead guilty without attending court. If there’s a good reason why you missed the Fixed Penalty Notice deadline, the court may decide to order that you pay the original fine and no additional prosecution costs.
Should I plead guilty?
Recipients of a Single Justice Procedure Notice may feel put under pressure to plead guilty. The notices refer to a discount of 33% for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity and warns of the likelihood of increased prosecution costs if you don’t. It does not mean that you should plead guilty to an offence if you are not guilty.
However, it is beneficial to consider your plea before returning the documents or entering a plea online. We can deal with this for you.
If you do not have a defence, then it is usually best to plead guilty as soon as possible to preserve credit and to get the best outcome. You should be aware that it can be difficult to retract a guilty plea once entered, so if you are in doubt, get advice before entering your plea.
Conversely, it is straightforward to change your plea from not guilty to guilty. You can do this at any stage in the proceedings, even in the middle of a trial. The later you leave it, the less credit you will receive for your plea.
Will I avoid having to go to court?
Not necessarily. The Single Justice Procedure Notices use standard wording regardless of the seriousness of the offence. The theory is that it avoids unnecessary court hearings. However, if disqualification from driving is a possibility, the court must warn the driver. The court should either invite the driver to a court hearing or send them a letter warning of proposed disqualification. Driving while disqualified is a serious offence which can result in a prison sentence. For that reason, courts must attempt to ensure the driver is aware of the ban before imposing it. It will depend on the nature of the offence and the number of points on your licence whether you will need to attend court at some point.
Also, you will have to attend court if you contest the matter and it proceeds to a trial. The same goes for if you intend to put forward special reasons or exceptional hardship to avoid points or disqualification.
When might I need to attend court?
These are two examples of when a court appearance will be likely:
– A driver has six penalty points for two speeding offences. The driver committed the speeding offences in the three years before the current alleged mobile phone offence. Driving while using a mobile phone is an offence for which the court will impose a minimum of six penalty points (unless there are special reasons). The court won’t be able to deal with an offence of driving while using a mobile phone without the driver attending court because the driver would be facing a ‘totting up’ disqualification.
– A driver is facing an allegation of driving at 55mph in a 30mph limit. The magistrates’ court sentencing guidelines suggest that the court should impose a period of disqualification of between 7-56 days or six points. The court should request that the driver should attend court so it can consider whether to ban. It does not mean that the court will impose a driving ban, but it is a genuine possibility.
What if there is a mistake on the Single Justice Procedure Notice?
The court may allow some errors to be corrected. If the police have misspelt your name, it doesn’t automatically mean that the notice is invalid and you can ignore it. The prosecution can ask the court to allow them to amend the papers, and unless you can show that you would suffer prejudice, the court will grant the application.
If there is a significant error which results in you being disadvantaged, the court may choose not to allow the amendment. Alternatively, the court may allow the change but grant an adjournment for you to prepare your case further.
Some errors cannot be rectified, such as if an entirely different name or entity is on the Single Justice Procedure Notice. You should seek advice before pleading not guilty solely on the basis that a notice is defective.
What happens if I miss the 21 day deadline?
You should contact the court immediately to let them know the situation. Ideally, you should enter your plea as soon as possible to allow the court to deal with your case. Often matters are not dealt with until 28 days or more after the postal date on the Single Justice Procedure Notice. However, you should enter a plea within the deadline if at all possible. If you do not, you risk the court convicting you in absence.
Don’t feel under pressure to enter a plea if you have not had time to consider it properly. If in doubt, you may choose to enter a not guilty plea while you take advice, but this can impact on the credit you receive (see the questions ‘what happens if I don’t respond’). If you are going to plead guilty, you should do so at the earliest possible opportunity. It is, however, easier to change a plea of not guilty to one of guilty, than to change it the other way around.
If you have missed the 21-day deadline for responding to a Single Justice Procedure Notice, then take advice as a matter of urgency.
Can my solicitor respond to the Single Justice Procedure Notice for me?
Yes, we can respond on your behalf, provided we have your full instructions and have advised you accordingly. If you instruct us, we will deal with the court on your behalf, enter your plea, deal with any issues and put forward any mitigation or defence as appropriate. You may still have to attend court at a later date, depending on the nature of your case. We can represent you at that hearing.
Please do contact us as soon as possible so that we can ensure we are able to meet any deadlines. That said, if your deadline is looming or has already passed, we will still be delighted to help you.
Can the court throw the case out if I have a defence?
he prosecuting authority (usually the Police alone or together with the Crown Prosecution Service) decides whether to proceed with an allegation. It is not up to the court to make this decision. A court can only dismiss a case in the following circumstances:
- The prosecution issues a Notice of Discontinuance, offers no evidence or withdraws an allegation (this means that the police or Crown Prosecution Service are choosing not to proceed).
- The court accepts a submission of no case to answer – often referred to as a ‘half-time submission’. At the close of the prosecution case, the court may decide that no reasonable jury could convict you.
- The court finds you not guilty after a trial.
That said, sometimes the court may indirectly put pressure on the prosecution by questioning its decision to proceed where it is clear that the case against the defendant is clearly weak. At the Single Justice Procedure Stage, this rarely happens unless there is a prior agreement between the court and the prosecution.
Is there a 6 month time limit for Single Justice Procedure Notices?
The new Single Justice Procedure Notice has mostly replaced the Summons procedure, and the rules are different. Unlike with a Summons, the Single Justice Procedure is dealt with by the prosecuting authority.
The Single Justice Procedure requires the police prosecutor to issue a Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice within six months of the offence. The police prosecutor must issue a Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice to the court (usually electronically) within the six-month time limit. The Single Justice Procedure Notice may not be posted out to you within six months, but the law does not appear to require that.
The charge is usually laid electronically by the police. This involves entering the details in a computer system which can be viewed by the court. As soon as the details are complete, the charge is authorised. The charge date should appear on the court paperwork you receive.
The whole purpose of the six-month time limit for summary only offences is presumably to allow people facing less serious offences to be able to ‘draw a line under the matter’ after a reasonable period. For this reason, it seems unfair if the Single Justice Procedure Notice is sometimes not sent out for seven months or more, but higher courts have decided that it is acceptable.
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