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).
I am aware that some police prosecutors have failed to adapt to the "new method" of instituting proceedings. They sometimes mistakenly think that 'laying an information' is the correct procedure for a SJPN case. It isn't. If proceedings are issued late then you may have a defence to the charge. If you require advice about this or are at risk of a driving disqualification then please contact me by email.
JUSTICES CLERKS SOCIETY GUIDANCE
In August 2017, the JCS issued some guidance regarding time limits for instituting proceedings commenced by Written Charge (Requsitions and Single Justice Procedure Notices). The guidance was updated in January 2018.
"At what point is the written charge issued for the purposes of time limits for prosecution?
The Society’s view is that a written charge is issued when the prosecutor determines to issue it and time runs from that point. It does not run from the date when the charge and SJPN are served on the court (or defendant)."
"Is issue of the charge only complete when it has been notified to the court?
It follows from the above that the written charge is issued when the prosecutor issues it under s. 29(1). “Issue” is not defined in the Act, and thus bears its dictionary meaning of “To send forth, give out”. Service on the court is a separate process under s. 29(3) and the Criminal Procedure Rules observe the same distinction. Receipt by the court, therefore, as noted above, is relevant only as evidence of the date of issue."
"What are the consequences if a prosecutor sends a SJPN to the defendant (or court) at a later date from that on which they issued the written charge?
The view of the Society is that delay in service of the written charge and SJP notice has no impact on the formal validity of the process, although it may open the way to allegations that the date of issue was falsified, or to an abuse of process argument.
It follows from the above discussion, that issue of the written charge, issue of the SJP notice, and the posting (service) of the two, are all different things. However s. 29(2) states that the prosecutor must issue the SJP notice “at the same time” as issuing the written charge. The Criminal Procedure Rules repeats this.
It has therefore been argued that the posting of a SJP notice many weeks after issue of the written charge would invalidate the process, requiring dismissal. In the view of the Society this again confuses the question of “issue” and “serve”: Service is a procedure subsequent to issue.
In reality, the decision of a prosecutor to issue a written charge will almost invariably be accompanied by a decision to proceed by way of SJPN, and thus the issue of both documents will be virtually simultaneous. Thereafter there will be a delay, whether long or short, in posting or emailing the charge and SJPN, but that has no impact on the validity of the process of issuing them.
There may however be adverse consequences for the prosecutor. Firstly, a long delay between the date of issue, as asserted by the prosecutor, and the date of service, may cast doubt on the truth of that assertion, particularly if the date of service was outside the six month period prescribed in s. 127. Secondly, a long delay might cast doubt on service of the notice, as with the passage of time there is an increased prospect of the defendant having changed address. These are all preliminary questions of fact which the court would have to determine if the issue were raised. "
The advice from the Justices Clerks Society is largely accurate; both a Written Charge and Single Justice Procedure Notice must be issued “at the same time” and within 6 months of the index offence.
If you receive a Single Justice Procedure Notice then you should ascertain:
(i) the date of the alleged offence
(ii) the date on which a Written Charge document was issued
(iii) the date on which a Single Justice Procedure Notice was issued
(iv) were the aforementioned documents issued "at the same time?"
Put the prosecution to proof as to the aforementioned. Require evidence to be produced. The prosecution will not succeed if the prosecutor can prove that the Written Charge was issued within 6 months but the Single Justice Procedure Notice was issued outside of the statutory period.
In March 2019, the Divisional Court will hear a case to determine the aforementioned considerations. The outcome of that case will be posted here.
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)