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Time Limits and Single Justice Procedure Notices (SJPN)

April 2, 2019 by in category News tagged as with 0 and 0
Home > News > News > Time Limits and Single Justice Procedure Notices (SJPN)
Single Justice Procedure Notice Time Limit

The single justice procedure is now the most common way in which low level motoring offences are prosecuted through the courts. However, a recent High Court case has offered some very useful clarity on the issue of time limits. The  statutory time limit for commencing proceedings is 6 months after the date of the alleged offence. The confusion has arisen due to a common practice of police forces commencing proceedings very close to or even after 6 months following the date of the allegation. Some arguments have been raised by Defence Solicitors about the validity of the proceedings where the written charge and single justice procedure notice have been served on the defendant (and the court) more than six months after the date of the alleged offence.

Differences between old style and new procedure

Both Single Justice Procedure (SJP) notices and requisitions are initiated by a prosecutor issuing a “written charge”. Where a prosecutor issues a written charge, it must at the same time issue a requisition, or a SJP notice.

The reason this has created considerable confusion and debate is that the historical position meant that an old style summons was issued by the court on the application of the prosecution and arguably, this was a much more transparent/fair process.

The main difference from the old style information and summons procedure is that requisitions and SJP notices are issued by the prosecutor with the court having no role in their issue. This distinction means that the consequences of service on the court are also different. With a summons, service on the court initiates the process.  However with a requisition or SJP notice, service on the court only follows issue and does not initiate the process.

This new process has resulted in many lawyers and magistrates scratching their heads to determine:

  • At what point is the written charge issued for the purposes of time limits for prosecution?
  • Is issue of the charge only complete when it has been notified to the court?
  • What are the consequences if a prosecutor sends a Single Justice Procedure Notice to the defendant (or court) at a later date from that on which they issued the written charge

Guidance was issued to the Magistrates’ Courts by the Justices’ Clerks’ Society on these relatively common questions but this was not definitive in law. However, on 28th March 2019 a High Court Ruling clarified the position for everyone when asked to consider the time limit applicable to a specific case of speeding with the following timeline:

19th November 2017, Mr Brown drove a motor vehicle at a speed exceeding 60mph (the relevant speed limit).

At 15:48 hours on 19th November 2017, Kevin Sharpe, trained operator of laser measuring devices and Concept DVD system, formed the opinion that a vehicle was travelling in excess of the speed limit. He targeted an Audi A5 S LINE BLK ED and TDI vehicle registration VRM DG15 0TV using the device to which produced a record in the form of a DVD. The speed of the vehicle is shown as 86 mph. Kevin Sharpe produces a witness statement dated 21st April 2018 which exhibits at 09221 A and B still frames taken from the DVD sowing (sic) the vehicle and the speed measurement which appears in the datablock.

3 Days

On 22nd November 2017 a Notice of Intended Prosecution/Section 172 request was sent to Mr Brown that was dated 22nd November 2017 by Royal Mail first class post.

12 Days

On 4th December 2017 Mr Brown completed a s 172 statement, confirming he was the driver of the vehicle on 19th November 2017

5 Months 2 Days

On 21st April 2018 a written charge was produced by Prosecutor Gareth Morgan, Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police.

6 Months 4 Days

23rd May 2018 was the posting date of the Single Justice Procedure Notice and written charge.

It was Mr Brown’s case that the SJPN had missed the 6 month deadline interpreting the date of it being posted with the written charge being the date proceedings were initiated. However, the High Court rejected Mr Brown’s appeal and explained its reasoning as follows:

“I reject the submission of the Appellant that the issuing of a written charge only arises when the written charge, itself comprised in the document, is posted as the acceptable means of service to the relevant defendant. The “issuing” of the written charge and service are discrete steps, as the legislation and the Criminal Procedure Rules make clear. I also reject the submission that the information contained in the written charge must be in the public domain, in the sense of being placed before a Court or being served, before issue can be held to be complete. That would be to reconstitute the former two-step procedure in a different form. In my judgment, the submission that some intervening steps between the completion of the written charge as a document in its final form, and the service process, could in some way complete the process of “issuing” cannot possibly be right. The only intervening steps might be checking the postal address of the relevant defendant and placing the written charge in an envelope. There is no evidence of the first as part of the process. The second cannot possibly be part of the issuing process. Once it is recognised that the issuing of the written charge and service on the defendant are separate steps, to my mind these arguments make no sense.

I do conclude that the Magistrates were in error, at least technically, in their answer to the first question they formulate. In my view a written charge cannot be regarded as having been issued “when the relevant prosecutor determines to issue it”. Moreover, it seems to me that it is insufficient that there should be “some tangible signification by the prosecutor”. In my view, the written charge can be regarded as issued only when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service. Provided that is done within six months of the relevant offence, the written charge will have been issued in time.”

To summarise this ruling, The High Court:

  • rejected the argument that the time limit was only met by service of the document (posting it);
  • rejected the argument that the information contained in the written charge must be in the public domain before issue can be held to be complete;
  • rejected the submission that some intervening steps between the completion of the written charge as a document in its final form, and the service process, could in some way complete the process of “issuing” and went as far as saying this cannot possibly be right.

It clarified that:

  • the written charge can be regarded as issued only when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service.

This clarity still leaves us scratching our heads as we are not sure how we are expected to establish “the date when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service. “ This assumes the prosecution will be open about missed deadlines when asked. Sadly, removing the court from this process will, in our view, result in a number of cases being pursued when the statutory time limit may well have expired.

One word of reassurance came at the end of the judgment, however:

“It should be noted that, if following issue in time, there is an inordinate or unwarranted or unjustified but significant delay before such a written charge is served, that should not and cannot go without remedy. The remedy is abuse of process. It would be wise for prosecutors, as a matter of practice, to ensure in every case that both the issue and service of Single Justice Procedure Notices are completed before six months from the relevant offences, so as to put paid to any suggestion of such unwarranted delay.”

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