There are two ways in which you can be formally accused of a motoring offence, either by way of a summons or being charged by the police with an offence.
When you are summonsed with an offence, you will be informed of the date your case is due to go before the Magistrates for the first time. At the first hearing of your case you will normally be expected to enter your plea although this can sometimes be delayed on request. In most cases this can be done in writing without the need for your attendance.
If you have been summonsed and wish to plead not guilty this can be done in writing. Your case will then be fixed either for a pre-trial review or a trial. Your attendance is not strictly required at the trial but it may be in your interests to attend, particularly if it would assist your case to give evidence before the Court.
If you intend to plead guilty and a disqualification from driving is a possibility your attendance will be required. If you do not respond to the Court summons the Court may convict you in your absence. If you plead guilty without attending or do not respond to the summons and the Court wishes to consider a disqualification, it is obliged to adjourn the case to another date in order to allow you the opportunity to attend. If you do not attend the second hearing of your case, the Court may disqualify you in your absence or issue a warrant for your arrest.
Charged with an offence?
The Police will charge you with an offence if you have been arrested and it has been decided that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. This normally relates to the more serious offences such as drink driving. After you have been charged the police will provide you with a date on which you will be required to attend Court. If you have been charged you must attend Court on the date specified otherwise the Court will normally issue a warrant for your arrest.
Will my case be heard in the Magistrates or Crown Court?
Some offences can only ever be heard in the Magistrates Court, such as, amongst others speeding, traffic signal offences, careless driving and drink driving. Other offences, such as dangerous driving, can be heard in the Magistrates Court or Crown Court. If you are accused of dangerous driving, you may elect for your case to be tried in the Crown Court before a Jury. The Magistrates may also decide that due to the seriousness of the offence it must be heard before the Crown Court.
How do I decide what plea to enter to the charge?
Before the Court asks you to enter a plea, you should be entitled to consider an outline of the case against you. This is commonly referred to in legal circles as the “Advance Information” and will normally consist of the statements of the main prosecution witnesses. In a drink driving case it should include a booklet which sets out the procedure which was followed for obtaining the samples of breath and/orÂ blood or urine from you. AfterÂ having considered this information,Â a solicitor who specialises in defending motoring offences should be able to advise you of the strength of the case against in order that you can decide what plea to enter.
Will I have to say anything when I go to Court?
If you are legally represented at the first hearing of your case, you will only be required to confirm your name, address and the plea you wish to enter to the charge.
If you plead guilty the prosecution representative will outline the facts of the case. Your representative will then address the Court on your behalf, explaining any mitigating circumstances that there may be in relation to the offence and your own circumstances.
If you are facing a disqualification due to having 12 points on your licence and wish to put forward reasons why you should not be disqualified then your representative will provide the reasons as to why there would be exceptional hardship in the event of a disqualification being imposed. You will be required to confirm this on oath and may be asked questions about this by the prosecution representative and/or the Magistrates before a decision is made.
Could I go to prison?
Custodial sentences can only be imposed for more serious motoringÂ convictions such as drink driving, causing death by careless driving, dangerous drivingÂ and driving whilst disqualified. It does not apply to less serious offences such as speeding, failure to furnish information, driving without insurance, careless driving, contravening a traffic signal or driving whilst using aÂ handheld device.
A custodial sentence will generally only be considered by the Magistrates’ Court following conviction drink driving case where the reading is significantly over the prescribed limit or where there is a history of previous similar offences.