The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 introduced the Single Justice Procedure which applies only to cases involving adults charged with summary-only non-imprisonable offences. The single justice procedure took effect from 13 April 2015. It will enable such cases to be dealt with by a single magistrate sitting with a legal adviser on the papers without the attendance of either a prosecutor or the defendant. The defendant will instead be able to engage with the court online (or in writing) and the case will not be heard in a traditional courtroom.
It will be for prosecutors to identify cases which might be suitable for the single justice procedure. These will be commenced by a written charge and a new type of document called a ‘single justice procedure notice.'
The single justice procedure notice will be sent to the defendant explaining the offence which has given rise to the proceedings, the options available to the defendant, and the consequences of not responding to the notice. It will be accompanied by the evidence upon which the prosecutor will be relying to prove the case.
The notice will give the defendant a date to respond in writing to the allegation - rather than a date to attend court. However, the defendant will have the right to request a traditional hearing in open court. If he wishes to plead not guilty, or otherwise wants to have a hearing in a traditional courtroom, the defendant can indicate these wishes in the response to the single justice procedure notice. In such circumstances the case will be referred to a traditional court and the case will be managed in the normal way.
In cases where a defendant pleads guilty and indicates that he would like to have the matter dealt with in his absence, or fails to respond to the notice at all, a single magistrate will consider the case on the basis of the evidence submitted in writing by the prosecutor, and any written mitigation from the defendant. The single magistrate can convict and sentence, or dismiss the charge as appropriate.
If a single justice considers at any point that it would be inappropriate to conduct the case under the single justice procedure, the justice can refer it to a traditional magistrates’ court.
HELP WITH YOUR CASE
I'm often asked to advise about plea and the correct strategy to best deal with Single Justice Procedure Notices. I frequently draft mitigation statements for my clients and the cost of doing that is relatively small. Please contact me by email for further details.
TIME LIMITS FOR SJPN CASES
A Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice must be issued "at the same time" and within 6 months of the index offence. The day of the offence is excluded from the calculation. Some police authorities are failing to adhere to the rules and proceedings are sometimes discontinued where this is the case. The court has no jurisdiction to hear a case commenced outside of the statutory time limit.
Section 15(2)(bb) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 makes clear that for the purposes of that Act, proceedings in relation to an offence are instituted - "when the written charge and single justice procedure notice are issued."
Rule 7.2(5)(b) of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 states that - "an authorised prosecutor must issue a written charge not more than 6 months after the offence alleged." Note that section 29(2) of the Criminal Justice 2003 Act provides that - "where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge it must at the same time issue ... a single justice procedure notice." A prosecutor must not issue a Written Charge document but defer the issue of the Single Justice Procedure Notice.
It is clear from section 29(2B) of the 2003 Act, that the intended recipient of a single justice procedure notice is the defendant. The explanatory notes to section 29 state that [the new method] consists in the issue to the person prosecuted of a written charge. It may be noted that the so-called "new method" of commencing proceedings places the obligation on the prosecutor to issue documents to the Defendant. This is done without reference to the court - although once a Written Charge is issued to the Defendant then the prosecutor must immediately inform the court officer - see Crim PR 2015, r.7.2(3).
Brown v DPP  EWHC 798 (Admin) 2nd April 2019
This case turns on the meaning of the term "issuing". The Appellant was convicted on 17 August 2018 by the North Staffordshire Magistrates of an offence of speeding contrary to a Local Traffic Order and Sections 84 and 89(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. He has admitted the facts alleged. The defence advanced, and the basis of the appeal by way of case stated, is that the written charge in the case was not "issued" within the six months period specified by Section 127(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 ["the 1980 Act"].
The Appellant contends that proceedings cannot be "issued" unless and until the relevant document (the written charge) "is in the public domain at least to the extent that it has left the relevant prosecutor's office". The Respondent argues that the only way in which to make sense of the wording of [section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 ["the 2003 Act"] is to interpret the word "issuing" as meaning what happens when the written charge is produced by the prosecutor in a form that is ready for service.
Held: "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.
It follows that the Justices were right "to decide that the written charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice were issued to the Defendant by the relevant prosecutor on 21 April 2018". As a consequence, in my view the Appellant's conviction can stand and I would dismiss the appeal.
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."
In Director of Public Prosecutions v McFarlane  EWHC 1895 (Admin) the Court held that:
(1) Criminal proceedings are instituted by the issue of a written charge pursuant to section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 regardless of whether a requisition or a single justice procedure notice is issued and regardless of whether the charge and requisition or single justice procedure notice are served on the defendant in accordance with subsections (2) and (3) or (3A) of the Act.
(2) Failure to comply with the requirements of subsections (2) and (3) or (3A) does not render the proceedings a nullity but may in an appropriate case be dealt with as an abuse of process.
THE LAW PERTAINING TO SINGLE JUSTICE PROCEDURE NOTICES –
Criminal Justice Act 2003 c. 44
Section 29 - New method of instituting proceedings
(1) A relevant prosecutor may institute criminal proceedings against a person by issuing a document (a "written charge") which charges the person with an offence.
(2) Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge, it must at the same time issue—
(a) a requisition, or
(b) a single justice procedure notice.
(2A) 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.
(2B) A single justice procedure notice is a document which requires the person on whom it is served to serve on the designated officer for a magistrates’ court specified in the notice a written notification stating—
(a) whether the person desires to plead guilty or not guilty, and
(b) if the person desires to plead guilty, whether or not the person desires to be tried in accordance with section 16A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
(3) Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge and a requisition, the written charge and requisition must be served on the person concerned, and a copy of both must be served on the court named in the requisition.
(3A) Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge and a single justice procedure notice, the written charge and notice must be served on the person concerned, and a copy of both must be served on the designated officer specified in the notice.
(3B) If a single justice procedure notice is served on a person, the relevant prosecutor must—
at the same time serve on the person such documents as may be prescribed by Criminal Procedure Rules, and serve copies of those documents on the designated officer specified in the notice.
(3C) The written notification required by a single justice procedure notice may be served by the legal representative of the person charged on the person’s behalf.
Section 29(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is not yet in force. When it comes into force, a relevant prosecutor will not have the power to lay an information for the purpose of obtaining the issue of a summons under section 1 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
Criminal Justice Act 2003 c. 44
Section 30 - Further provision about new method
(1) Criminal Procedure Rules may make—
provision as to the form, content, recording, authentication and service of written charges, requisitions or single justice procedure notices, and
(b) such other provision in relation to written charges, requisitions or single justice procedure notices as appears to the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee to be necessary or expedient.
(5) Except where the context otherwise requires, in any enactment contained in an Act passed before this Act—
(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 relevant prosecutor issuing a requisition), and
(c) 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 single justice procedure notice (or to a relevant prosecutor issuing a single justice procedure notice).
(6) Subsection (5) does not apply to section 1 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.
Criminal Procedure Rules 2015, Part 24
Single justice procedure: special rules
24.9.—(1) This rule applies where—
(a) the offence alleged—
(i) can be tried only in a magistrates’ court, and (ii) is not one punishable with imprisonment;
(b) the defendant is at least 18 years old;
(c) the prosecutor has served on the defendant—
(i) a written charge,
(ii) the material listed in paragraph (2) on which the prosecutor relies to set out the facts of the offence,
(iii) the material listed in paragraph (3) on which the prosecutor relies to provide the court with information relevant to sentence,
(iv) a notice that the procedure set out in this rule applies,
(v) a notice for the defendant’s use if the defendant wants to plead guilty,
(vi) a notice for the defendant’s use if the defendant wants to plead guilty but wants the case dealt with at a hearing by a court comprising more than one justice, and
(vii) a notice for the defendant’s use if the defendant wants to plead not guilty; and
the prosecutor has served on the court officer—
(i) copies of those documents, and
(ii) a certificate of service of those documents on the defendant.
(2) The material that the prosecutor must serve to set out the facts of the offence is—
(a) a summary of the evidence on which the prosecution case is based;
(i) written witness statement to which Part 16 (Written witness statements) applies, or (ii) document or extract setting out facts; or
(c) any combination of such a summary, statement, document or extract.
(3) The material that the prosecutor must serve to provide information relevant to sentence is—
(a) details of any previous conviction of the defendant which the prosecutor considers relevant, other than any conviction listed in the defendant’s driving record;
(b) if applicable, a notice that the defendant’s driving record will be made available to the court;
(c) a notice containing or describing any other information about the defendant, relevant to sentence, which will be made available to the court.
(4) Not more than 21 days after service on the defendant of the documents listed in paragraph (1)(c)—
(a) a defendant who wants to plead guilty must serve a notice to that effect on the court officer and include with that notice—
(i) any representations that the defendant wants the court to consider, and (ii) a statement of the defendant’s assets and other financial circumstances;
(b) a defendant who wants to plead guilty but wants the case dealt with at a hearing by a court comprising more than one justice must serve a notice to that effect on the court officer;
(c) a defendant who wants to plead not guilty must serve a notice to that effect on the court officer.
(5) If within 21 days of service on the defendant of the documents listed in paragraph (1)(c) the defendant serves a notice to plead guilty under paragraph (4)(a)—
(a) the court officer must arrange for the court to deal with the case in accordance with that notice; and
(b) the time for service of any other notice under paragraph (4) expires at once.
(6) If within 21 days of service on the defendant of the documents listed in paragraph (1)(c) the defendant wants to withdraw a notice which he or she has served under paragraph (4)(b) (notice to plead guilty at a hearing) or under paragraph (4)(c) (notice to plead not guilty), the defendant must—
(a) serve notice of that withdrawal on the court officer; and
(b) serve any substitute notice under paragraph (4).
(7) Paragraph (8) applies where by the date of trial the defendant has not—
(a) served notice under paragraph (4)(b) or (c) of wanting to plead guilty at a hearing, or wanting to plead not guilty; or
(b) given notice to that effect under section 16B(2) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980(a). (8) Where this paragraph applies—
(a) the court may try the case in the parties’ absence and without a hearing;
(b) the court may accept any guilty plea of which the defendant has given notice under paragraph (4)(a)