Introduction – making a plea online (via Gov.uk)
The government’s online portal for making a plea was set up in 2015 to ease the number of Defendants attending court in person. Following a written notification from the police (Single Justice Procedure Notice), the defendant may use the service to enter a plea online when charged with lower level motoring offences such as speeding, failure to furnish information, driving without insurance, using a handheld device whilst driving contravening a traffic signal and driving without due care and attention.
The service does not apply to offences which can carry a custodial sentence such as dangerous driving.
The government goes digital – making a plea online for summary traffic offences
On January 31st, 2012, the UK government’s public sector information website was launched. Styled as GOV.UK, the online service was brought in to provide single portal access to hundreds of the government’s digital assets. GOV.UK also eventually replaced Directgov and Business Link in October 2012.
As part of the GOV.UK rollout, an online “crime, justice and the law” service was introduced. This digital service allows the public to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to summary traffic offences.
What is a summary offence?
A charge for a ‘summary offence” is one which may be summarised and a ruling passed without the need of a jury. Instead, a presiding judge or magistrates will hear the case and in the event of convicton pass sentence.
Most driving matters are summary offences and do not carry a custodial sentence. For example, in the case of being convicted for a careless driving offence, discretionary sentencing may include a fine, licence endorsement points or a disqualification from driving.
Some other motoring offences such as dangerous driving are “either way” offences which means that they may be dealt with either in the Magistrates or Crown Court depending on their seriousness.
Where a summary offence does carry a potential custodial sentence (such as drink driving), the maximum prison sentence is six months.
Which driving offences are classified as summary offences?
The Road Traffic Act 1988 lays out provisions for the classification of summary driving offences. Please note that the following list of examples is not exhaustive. It is only possible to make a plea online in relation to charges for summary offences where a Single Justice Procedure has been issued, examples listed below:-
- Speeding offences
- Contravening traffic signals e.g. traffic lights
- Driving a vehicle without insurance
- Driving a vehicle in a careless or inconsiderate manner
- Failure to furnish information as to the identity of the driver
- Driving whilst using a handheld device
Examples of charges for summary offences in relation to which Single Justice Procedure Notices may not be issued and it is therefore not possible to enter a plea online are listed below:-
- Any instance of Taking a Vehicle Without Consent (TWOC)
- Testing positive for being over the blood alcohol driving limit whilst driving or being in charge of a vehicle
- Testing positive for being in excess of legal drug driving limits whilst driving or being in charge of a vehicle
- Driving a vehicle while disqualified
- Any failure to stop at the scene of a road accident (and any failure to report the accident to the authorities within a reasonable period of time);
How to use the ‘making a plea’ service
If you have received a Single Justice Procedure Notice you have the option to access the “make a plea” service and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty online. In order to do so, you will need to have several important details to hand.
The details you will need when making a plea online include:
- The Unique Reference Number (URN) referred to on the Single Justice Procedure Notice
- Driving licence number
- National Insurance number
- Details regarding your income and outgoings (if pleading guilty)
Pleading guilty online
At this stage the online portal allows a Defendant who has made a guilty plea online to to set out their mitigation in writing and provide details of their income and outgoings. When the information goes before the Single Justice they will decide whether it is appropriate for the sentence to be decided immediately i.e. penalty points and financial penalty or if the case should be listed for a full hearing in order that the Court may decide whether to impose a disqualification.
If making a not guilty plea using the online portal, the system requires details of the issues in the case to be entered together with confirmation of which witnesses are required to attend if the case proceeds to a trial.
Although it is anticipated that it may be in the future, at this stage it is not possible to use the online portal to:-
- View any notifications/communications
- Pay any fees or fines (when pleading guilty)
- Access rescheduling options for upcoming hearingsv
- View the results of the case.
The above information can only be obtained by e-mailing or telephoning the Court or by using the separate online system for payment of Court fines.
Benefits of speaking to a lawyer
If you have received a Single Justice Procedure Notice (SJPN), you are advised to seek legal representation so that you fully understand your options before making a plea. It is often possible for a specialist motoring solicitor to evaluate the prospects of successfully defending a charge based on the information provided with the SJPN such as the charge and the evidence which is enclosed e.g. police officer’s statements and photographic evidence.
If, having had a discussion with a solicitor about your options, you decide to enter a guilty plea, a well drafted letter of mitigation by a solicitor can often make a significant difference to the sentence imposed and help to avoid a full hearing at which disqualification would otherwise be considered.
We provide a free initial consultation in the first instance and will consider the papers on a no obligation basis before you decide whether to instruct us.
There is a free call centre helpline which provides guidance in relation to how to use the make a plea system, however it cannot provide legal advice.
Services such as those provided by Kenway Miller Solicitors in cases of summary traffic offences offer access to legal advice and guidance in relation to what plea to make. Pleading guilty is sometimes, but not always, the best option.However, it is sometimes possible to spot obvious flaws with the prosecution case . For example in relation to speeding offences, it is sometimes not clear whether a notice of intended prosecution was issued within 14 days, whether the speed limit claimed was actually in force at the time, the existence of signage on the road and the reliability of the speed alleged by the police.
Remember, you are able to change your plea at any time before the Single Justice Procedure takes place meaning you have no reason not to pursue your legal options.
Making a plea – Understanding the legal process
Below is a general summary of the legal processes that you may encounter after receiving a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) related to summary traffic offences.
If you were stopped by the police, you will likely have received a verbal Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP). Alternatively, you may later receive an NIP by post – which must be served on the registered keeper or driver within 14 days.
NIPs received by post are normally accompanied by a requirement for the identity of the driver which must be responded to within 28 days with details of the driver or other information relating to his/her identity.
Where the driver of the vehicle makes a signed admission to this effect, they may be offered a fixed penalty of 3 points and £100.00 fine or, if eligible, the opportunity of accepting a half-day speed awareness course. However, such an offer is not possible where you have previously attended a course within the last three years. For high level speeding offences attendance on a course or acceptance of a fixed penalty may not be offered.
Your case will generally be subject to a Single Justice Procedure if the speed is too high for a fixed penalty/speed awareness course or if these options are declined.
After a Single Justice Procedure Notice has been issued, you may make a plea online or by post. The case may be decided on the papers by the Single Justice or alternatively they may insist on a full hearing taking place if the offence is considered too serious or disqualification is being considered under totting up or due to the gravity of the offence. If a full hearing is listed, attendance with legal representation is advisable.
Where a plea of not guilty is entered, a court date will be set. The prosecution should then disclose all the evidence it is relying on and any that may undermine its case. Any failure to disclose any such evidence in full (and on time), could result in a collapse of the case.
Always bear in mind that evidence may not be strong evidence. If the evidence is poor or incomplete, a challenge may result in the case being thrown out in the fullness of time. For this reason (among many others), seeking our advice is essential.
While the online “Make a plea” service is a useful development for all Court users, including defendants, it is important not to act in haste in response to a Single Justice Procedure Notice.. Kenway Miller Solicitors can help explain your options, the benefits of each one and also provide you with strategic advice and guidance throughout your case. For more information, complete an online enquiry form leaving your details or call us on 0800 4334 678.