Postal Requisition and Written Charge - Time Limits - Magistrates Courts


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 issued with the Written Charge.

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:

  1. A statement of the offence that describes the offence in ordinary language and identifies and legislation that creates it; and

  2. 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:

  1. contain notice of when and where the defendant is required to attend court

  2. specify each offence in respect of which it is issued

  3. identify the person under whose authority it is issued

Time limits

  1. 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.

  2. Where a relevant prosecutor issues a written charge, it must at the same time issue a requisition document.

  3. 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 and requisition] was laid [issued], within 6 months from the time when the offence was committed.

Service rules

The prosecutor (not the court) is responsible for serving the written charge and requisition documents. 

In Director of Public Prosecutions v McFarlane [2019] 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.