Going to Court for Speeding and Other Driving Offences
- A fixed penalty
- A speeding ticket
- A notice of intended prosecution (NIP)
- A requirement to identify the driver (s.172).
In fact the only document that can require you to attend court is a summons, and even with one of these you can often avoid going to court. It’s important that you acquire a disclosure of all evidence against you before you attend court of make your plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
If you Receive a Court Summons for a Driving Offence
In addition, it is important that you also receive a Schedule of Unused Material as this documents lists all the evidence that the police have, but which they may not want you to see. Following disclosure of this Schedule you are then entitled to make an application, known as a defence statement, to obtain additional disclosure.
If you decide to plead guilty when you receive a summons you will never know, or be able to check, the full evidence against you.
Legal Advice for a Driving Offence
Many people panic when they receive a summons and feel pressured into entering a guilty plea – often just to get the matter over with. Please take legal advice before making any decisions. All our initial telephone advice to new clients is completely free of charge. We will explain all your options and help you make the right decision.
We would normally recommend that you have sight of the evidence against you before deciding whether to plead guilty. Remember that you can plead guilty at any time and therefore you have very little to lose by checking all the evidence properly first.
Driving Offences: The Legal Process
- You were stopped by the police and given a verbal Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP), or you received a written NIP through the post.
- If you received a NIP through the post you will also have received a notice requiring you to identify the driver – usually contained on the reverse side of the NIP. This is known as a s.172 notice.
- Once the driver has been identified the police may offer a fixed penalty (3 points and a £60 fine).
- Depending on your area, you may be given the option to take a speed awareness course – offered where your speed is only just above the limit. You can only complete one course in any 3 year period.
- If a fixed penalty / speed awareness course is not offered, or you do not accept it, the police may pass the case to court.
- The magistrates’ court in the area where the alleged offence occurred will issue a Summons.
- The Summons will require you to attend court on a particular date to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty). The Summons will usually give you the option of entering a plea by post to avoid having to attend court at the first hearing.
- If you plead guilty (at court or in writing) the court is likely to sentence you at the same hearing. If you plead guilty by post, the court will always require you to attend court if you face a possible disqualification due to a high speed or ‘totting-up’ penalty points.
- If you plead not guilty the court will set a future date, allowing time for the CPS to make disclosure of the evidence.
- If the CPS fails to make disclosure of the evidence within time, or the evidence is poor, the case against you may collapse.
The above points make the whole procedure look straightforward. In fact, speeding defence law can be extremely complicated and, if the evidence (or lack of it) from the police and the prosecution is challenged properly, it can take several months for a case to reach a date for trial.
Evidence for Driving Court Summons
It is our belief that the police rely on the fact that the vast majority of motorists will just plead guilty when accused of speeding – without even seeing the evidence against them! How many people do you know who have received a NIP or a Summons through the post and just pleaded guilty by post to avoid going to court? Did they ever see any of the evidence? Did the police actually have the evidence?
Even people who attend court and are disqualified from driving often fail to examine the evidence against them.
In the points listed above (dealing with the procedure of a case), at what stage do you think you will be shown the evidence against you? You may think that the evidence will be presented to you when you receive the NIP as this is the first time the police allege that you have committed a crime (speeding). Perhaps you believe the evidence will not be handed to you until a Summons is issued, as this is the stage when an actual decision has been made to prosecute you and you are being asked to enter a plea.
Believe it or not, you probably will never see the evidence against you. Never! Remember that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are there to prosecute you. They are not going to do you any favours. You will only ever see the documents that the police and the CPS want you to see. You will not receive anything that could damage the police evidence – unless you ask for it – insist on it. But do you know what to ask for, and what rights you have to obtain it?
The view taken by the CPS, based on my conversations with CPS lawyers in court, is that the CPS financial budget is not big enough for evidence to be sent out to every motorist accused of speeding. In addition, they say, there is no point in the CPS wasting time and money disclosing the evidence to you if you are going to plead guilty. I obviously take the opposite view; why should anyone plead guilty to a crime without first seeing the evidence?
Incredibly, even if you enter a not guilty plea and go to trial you may still not receive proper disclosure of the evidence – unless you ask for it! And believe me, the CPS is very reluctant to disclose anything to you that it does not want you to see. I have recently had one case – an ordinary speeding matter – where it took over 2 years trying to force the CPS to disclose documents that I wanted to see. It took numerous letters, faxes, court orders and 5 court hearings before the CPS finally dropped the case. The reason given by the CPS for dropping the case was “a lack of evidence”! (This work was undertaken on a fixed fee basis – thereby keeping my client’s costs low. See the section on legal advice below.)
The fact that the vast majority of people plead guilty without obtaining and checking the evidence can actually work in your favour. In my view the police often take short cuts when setting up and operating laser devices and in the documentation and production of evidence. In other words, they fail to do what they should do!
If you take the time to check the evidence against you, you may uncover mistakes made by the police and the CPS. I am often accused of winning cases on a technicality or by finding a ‘loophole’ in the evidence. So what! If a mistake has been made and the evidence is unreliable then you should not be convicted. Simple.
Do you Need Legal Advice?
A few words on obtaining legal advice – please bear the following points in mind:
- It may not be as expensive as you think, and it could save you a lot of money in the long run, as well as your licence. Some solicitors will also agree to represent you on a fixed fee basis, meaning you will know in advance what it will cost – the fixed fee will not increase whether the case takes one month or one year to resolve.
- Ensure that the solicitor you speak to is a specialist in speeding defence law. Don’t be afraid to ask how much of their time is spent handling speeding cases. If they also handle other areas of law, chances are they are not specialist at all.
- Check the charges. I would always advise agreeing a fixed fee so you know exactly what the advice will cost. This way, whether your case takes two months or two years to resolve, your bill stays the same!
- Try to have a chat with the solicitor who will be handling your case – if you don’t feel entirely comfortable, don’t use them.
- If you can’t actually speak with the solicitor direct, forget it. Some solicitors employ unqualified case workers or clerks to handle their work. It will drive you crazy if the only people you can ever get hold of know very little about your case.
- Contact a solicitor direct. A number of internet sites are not actually solicitors but third parties who just refer your case to a solicitor – for a fee.
- Try to find a solicitor who will offer free initial advice.
- Be wary of companies who ask for payment immediately – before you even speak with anyone.
Don't Just Accept a Driving Offence Charge - Challenge It!
Speeding defence law is extremely complex. The police are subject to numerous laws, rules, codes of practice and procedures including:
- Case law – decisions of the courts
- Statute law – made by Parliament
- Statutory Instruments – made by the Home Office under the authority of Parliament
- Codes of Practice – issued by the police and apply nationally
- Manufacturers’ instructions – issued by the makers of the speed devices
- Local constabulary codes or guidelines – issued by individual police force areas
- Local Orders – issued by Local Authorities
I have personally dealt with cases where the police officers operating the speed devices failed to complete even the most basic and fundamental checks to ensure the accuracy of the devices. If you are unsure – ask! Ask for the evidence and put the prosecution to proof – make them prove their case.