The "new method" of instituting proceedings
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 created a "new method" of instituting proceedings. After a pilot scheme, all police forces in England & Wales were given authority to use the new method from 3rd October 2011.
Criminal proceedings for summary only offences may be commenced by charge (usually at a police station), summons or the "new method" - written charge and requisition. Alternatively, a Single Justice Procedure Notice may be used.
Historically, a summons would normally be issued by the court after an "information" is laid at court by the police. The "new method" allows a relevant prosecutor to commence proceedings without reference to the court.
A relevant prosecutor may institute criminal proceedings by issuing a document - "a written charge” which charges a person with an offence. Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge, it must at the same time issue a "requisition document" - which requires the person to appear before a magistrates' court to answer the written charge. A requisition may be contained in the same document as a written charge, and contain more than one offence. The written charge and requisition must be served on the person concerned, and a copy of each must be served on the court named in the requisition.
The written charge document must contain:
- A statement of the offence that describes the offence in ordinary language and identifies and legislation that creates it; and
- such particulars of the conduct constituting the commission of the offence as to make clear what the prosecutor alleges against the defendant.
A requisition document must:
- contain notice of when and where the defendant is required to attend court
- specify each offence in respect of which it is issued
- identify the person under whose authority it is issued
- For a summary only offence, unless legislation otherwise provides then a relevant prosecutor must issue a written charge not more than 6 months after the offence alleged.
- Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge, it must at the same time issue a requisition document.
- An authorised prosecutor who issues a written charge must notify the court officer immediately.
The effect of section 30(5) of the 2003 Act is to equate a “written charge” with an “information” and a “requisition” with a “summons”. Section 30(5) provides:
(a) any reference (however expressed) which is or includes a reference to an information within the meaning of section 1 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (c 43) (or to the laying of such an information) is to be read as including a reference to a written charge (or to the issue of a written charge),
(b) any reference (however expressed) which is or includes a reference to a summons under section 1 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (or to a justice of the peace issuing such a summons) is to be read as including a reference to a requisition (or to a public prosecutor issuing a requisition).
Section 127 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 should therefore be read as follows:
(1) ... a magistrates’ court shall not try an information [a written charge] unless the information [written charge] was laid [issued], within 6 months from the time when the offence was committed.
A requisition is a document which requires the person on whom it is served to appear before a magistrates' court to answer the written charge; 29(2A) CJA 2003.
The prosecutor (not the court) is responsible for serving the written charge and requisition documents.
It is settled law that an "information" can be laid at court within 6 months but served later - by the court. Should the same principles apply to the "new method" - where the service obligation is on the prosecutor? The author of Blackstone's Criminal Practice 2016 says this:
Section 127 refers to the laying of an information but does not make it clear when time starts to run in the case of proceedings brought by the written charge and requisition procedure established by the CJA 2003, s.29. The possibilities are either the date of the issue of the written charge and requisition, or the date when they are received by the accused (or deemed to be received under the CrimPR). It is submitted that the relevant date ought to be the date when the written charge and requisition are issued. This would be consistent with the position in the case of proceedings brought by the laying of an information and issue of a summons, where time starts to run when the information is laid (not when the summons is received by the accused)
The author of Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences writes:
It would appear that the effect of this change is likely to mean that it is the date of the first issuing of the requisition that will be relevant for ascertaining whether an offence has been prosecuted within the relevant time-limits
CrimPR, Rule 7.2(3) requires an authorised prosecutor who issues a written charge to notify the court officer immediately. Arguably, this Rule replicates the requirement to "lay an information" at court.
In April 2016, District Judge Abelson sitting at Wirral Magistrates' Court heard two days of legal argument pertaining to the aforementioned. Five defendants contested matters on the basis that the charges were issued/served later than 6 months after the index offence. Fifteen other cases were put on hold pending the outcome of the five contested cases. Merseyside police had notified the court by email and LIBRA that a written charge and requisition had been issued. However, the documents were not served on the defendants until more than 6 months had passed since the index offence. The email from the police to the court had been deleted by court staff, but a computer record existed. The certificate of service on both the court file and in the defendant's bundle indicated a service date later than 6 months.
DJ Abelson ruled that a written charge and requisition had been issued within 6 months; notwithstanding that it had not been served on the defendant until more than 6 months had passed. This ruling is not binding in any subsequent case.
Footnote 2 - Single Justice Procedure Notice
I have been made aware that some prosecutors are authorising written charges and issuing the same within 6 months of the index offence, but delaying the issue of a Single Justice Procedure Notice until approximately 7 months since the index offence.
This appears to be contrary to the requirement that a Single Justice Procedure Notice is issued at the same time as a Written Charge; see s. 29(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 as amended by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
A court does not have jurisdiction to hear a case where proceedings were commenced more than 6 months after the index offence. It is arguable that where only a Written Charge is issued (but not a Single Justice Procedure Notice "at the same time") that proceedings have not been properly commenced.