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About Road Traffic Offence Procedures

About Road Traffic Offence Procedures


The majority of road traffic prosecutions are started by a summons being issued. There is no prescribed form but it should identify the defendant and give particulars of the offence and statute. For all summary offences (in the Magistrates Court) the summons must be issued within the six calendar months of the offence (subject to certain exceptions). There is no time limit in respect of indictable offences (heard in the Crown Court).

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Notification of intended prosecution

Section 1 of the RTOA 1988 states that a person shall not be convicted of an offense to which the section applies unless notice has been given verbally to, or served on the accused. There are certain exemptions but a person can be warned in one of three ways.

He can be warned at the time the offense was committed that the question of prosecuting him for one or other of the offences to which the section applies will be taken into consideration within 14 days of the commission of the offense a summons for the offense was served on him within 14 days of the commission of the offense a notice of the intended prosecution specifying the nature of the alleged offense and the time and place where it is alleged to have committed is served upon him or the registered keeper of the vehicle at the time of the offence.

The notice is deemed have been served if it was sent by registered post or recorded delivery to the last known address of the defendant. This is notwithstanding that the notice is returned as undelivered or for any other reason not received by him.

The onus is on the defendant to prove they were not served on the balance of probabilities and can raise the issue of noncompliance at any stage in the proceedings.

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Time limits

The general rule for indictable only offences and indictable offences triable either way is that there is no limit for commencing proceedings.

For summary offences section 127 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 provides that except where it is expressly provided in legislation a magistrates court shall not to try any information unless the information was laid within six months from time when the offence was committed. Section 6 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 provide for time limits within which summary proceedings for certain road traffic offences must be commenced and gives exceptions to the 6 month rule. Proceedings for offences to which the section applies may be brought within a period of 6 months from the date on which evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant the proceedings came to his knowledge. No proceedings can be commenced under the section more than 3 years after the commission of the offence. When deciding whether or not the 6 month rule has been broken, account should be taken off who has the authority to prosecute.

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Duty to produce license

The Police have statutory power to demand production of a driving licence.

Any driving licence must be surrendered every 10 years for renewal. There is also a duty to surrender a licence in respect of any endorsement received.

The Court has Statutory power to demand production of a driving licence. Failure to do comply with this may result in a fine of up to £1000. If after being required to produce a licence you drive without having produced it you commit an offence of driving without a licence.

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Most Road Traffic cases are commenced by way of a summons. Any information must be laid before a magistrate, the justices clerk or person designated by the justices clerk as having the delegated power to accept the information. The form the information should take is detailed in the Magistrates Court Rules 1981. The information should contain a description of the other offence, and give reasonable information of the nature of the charge and should refer to any provision creating the offence. The information needs to be laid within six months of the date of the offence.

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Guilty plea in writing

The provisions relating to a court accepting a guilty plea from the defendant in his absence are contained in section 12 of the MCA 1980. The requirements are:

  1. The summons must be issued to a person aged 16 or over
  2. The offence must be a summary one not attracting more than three months imprisonment
  3. The clerk of the court must be notified that the prescribed notice giving details of procedure together with a statement of facts have been served with the summons
  4. Upon receiving a guilty plea in writing purporting to be from the accused or a Solicitor on his behalf the clerk shall notify the prosecutor
  5. The court can proceed if it is proved to its satisfaction that the notice and statement of facts have been served with the summons
  6. The prosecutor need not be present
  7. The court may adjourn to deal with the case as though the procedure was not used The defendant can, by giving an intimation in writing to the clerk that he wished to do so, withdraw his plea at any time before the hearing, in which case the clerk should notify the prosecutor
  8. The notification of the guilty plea, the statement of facts and any statement in mitigation must be read out before the court by the clerk
  9. Any application for costs must be notified with the statement of facts and brought to the attention of the justices
  10. If the procedure is used the prosecutor cannot add to the statement of facts served on the accused

Instead of a statement of facts the prosecution can serve on the defendant a section 9 witness statement. This enables the prosecutor to proceed to prove the case against a defendant who does not respond to the summons at the first hearing. A section 9 statement served with the summons is to be treated the same way as if it was a statement of facts under the written plea of guilty procedure.

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Warrant for arrest

Generally a warrant can only be issued where:-

  • The offence which the warrant relates to is punishable with imprisonment or
  • The court having convicted the defendant proposes to impose a disqualification upon him.

Normally the court will serve the adjournment notice on the Defendant warning him that a warrant will be issued under the relevant provisions if he does not appear at an adjourned hearing.

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Section 9 statements

Where evidence is likely to be agreed it is commonplace for it be presented by means of a written statement under section 9 of the CJA 1967. This section allows a written statement to be admissible as evidence to the same extent as oral evidence by the same person subject to the following conditions being met:-

  • The statement purports to be signed by the person who made it
  • The statement contained a declaration by that person to the effect that it is true to the best of his knowledge and belief and that he made the statement knowing that, if it was tendered in evidence, he would be liable to prosecution if he wilfully stated in it any thing which he knew to be false or did not believed to be true

Before the hearing at which the statement is tendered in evidence, a copy of the statement is served, by or on behalf of the party proposing to tender it, on each of the other parties to the proceedings and none of the parties or their solicitors, within seven days from the service of the copy of the statement, serve a notice on the party proposing to object to the statement being tendered in evidence under the section.

Any statement under section 9 shall, unless the court otherwise directs, be read aloud and an oral account shall be given of any of the statement not read out.

Failure to comply with the provisions set out above can render the statement inadmissible.

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Fixed penalty procedure

The procedures relating to this are quite complex.

Certain fixed penalty offences may be dealt with by traffic wardens. These are offences of parking without obligatory lights or reflectors during hours of darkness, obstruction of roads, offences relating to parking places on the highway where charges are made (by meters and machines), offences where there is no vehicle excise license and also offences in relation to the pedestrian crossing regulations. They also have powers to issue a summons in relation to vehicles committing offences whilst stationary.

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Non-endorsable fixed penalties

Generally where an offense is detected and the driver is present then they will be issued with a fixed penalty notice which is recorded by the police. If the fixed penalty is paid no further action is taken. If payment if not received and no request is made for Hearing then the fixed penalty is registered and a court will seek enforcement. If the driver in any way disputes the fixed penalty notice to them they may request a hearing and a summons is then issued.

Where an offense is detected and the driver is not present the fixed penalty notice is attached to the vehicle. If payment is received in accordance with the fixed fee notice no further action is taken. If no payment is made the vehicle is traced through the DVLC records and the notice sent to the owner of the vehicle. If the driver requests a hearing a summons is issued. If no payment is received the fixed penalty is registered and the court will seek enforcement.

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Endorsable fixed penalties

When the offence is detected and the license is produced if then there is no prospect of disqualification when the driver surrenders his license a fixed penalty notice is issued and if paid the license is endorsed with a penalty points and returned to the offender. If the fixed penalty is not paid then this is registered and a summons issued. Alternatively if the driver disputes the offence against him a hearing can be requested and following this a summons is issued. Where the driver fails to produce a license a fixed penalty notice is again issued and the matter proceeds by ways of summons.

Where there is the prospect of disqualification resulting as a result of the issue of the fixed penalty notice then a summons is issued.

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The same rules apply to sentencing for road traffic offences as they apply to other offences. Many road traffic offences also carry penalties of disqualification, either obligatory or discretionary and endorsement of the offenders driving licence. The penalties applied depend upon the nature of the offence. We would refer you to the RTA offences and penalties section which gives outline of the penalties imposed for the various offences.

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Special reasons

It is possible to avoid endorsement on your license by pleading special reasons. Two points are critical. First, the plea must be established by the defence and by evidence and may be the subject of cross-examination and evidence in rebuttal. Second, if the special reasons are established the court must go on to decide as a matter of discretion whether or not it is proper to disqualify.

There is a great deal of case law as to what amounts to special reasons. We would recommend you seek legal advice when making this plea. The main themes however are the consequences of the disqualification upon the defendants family and others, the nature of the journey (including shortness) in which the offence was committed, where the defender has been misled and mistaken (this includes the lacing of drinks) and where the defendant is in imminent danger.

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Endorsement and penalty points

Endorsable offences are set out in schedule two RTOA 1988. Penalty points are endorsed upon conviction. Full details of the more common endorsable offences please see the RTA offences and penalties section.

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Disqualification falls into two categories with the offences namely obligatory and discretionary.

The rule is that an accused must be present or have had the opportunity to be present at the time when an order for disqualification is made.

You may be disqualified under the "Totting Up" procedure. This is when you cumulatively totalled 12 points or more on your license.

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Disqualification of a new driver

With effect from 1st June 1997 The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 introduced a scheme for the retesting of drivers who commit offences while still inexperienced. Drivers who obtained six or more penalty points within two years of passing their driving test will revert to "learner" status and have to display L plates and be accompanied by an experienced driver until they pass a further test. The act defines the probationary period as being two years beginning with the day on which the person first passes a driving test.

Disqualification can arise under any of five provisions:

  1. s34(1) Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 - obligatory disqualification
  2. s34(2) Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 - discretionary disqualification
  3. s35 Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 - penalty points or totting up disqualification
  4. s36 Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 - until a test of competence is passed
  5. s147 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 - where driving is involved in a serious crime

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How to get your license back after disqualification

You must apply for a new licence, even if your old licence has not run out.

Paper license holders - You will automatically be sent application forms D27 and D750, by DVLA ,56 days before the period of disqualification ends. You must complete both forms and enclose the appropriate fee. You must also enclose original documentation confirming your identity and a passport sized colour photograph. Send your completed application and fee to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AB. Photocard license holders - You will automatically be sent application form D27, by DVLA, 56 days before the period of disqualification ends. You must complete the D27 form and enclose the appropriate fee. Send your completed application and fee to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AB.

DVLA will make enquiries if you have:

  • Been disqualified for driving or been in charge of a vehicle when the level of alcohol in the body equalled or exceeded:
    • 8.75 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
    • 200 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, or
    • 267.5 milligrams per 100 millilitres of urine
  • Two disqualifications within the space of 10 years for drinking and driving, or being in charge of a vehicle whilst unfit through drink
  • One disqualification for refusing/failing to supply a specimen for analysis

If you are not sure when your disqualification ends, contact the court that disqualified you.

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Can a disqualification period be reduced?

The law permits those who have been disqualified for two years or more to apply to the convicting court for a reduction in the period of disqualification in the following circumstances:

  • After serving 2 years of the disqualification period if you were disqualified for more than 2 but less than 4 years
  • After half the period of disqualification has been served if you were disqualified for less than 10 years but not less than 4 years
  • After serving 5 years of the disqualification period if you were disqualified for 10 years or more

If the court agrees to reduce the period of disqualification, an application must be made to DVLA for the early restoration of your driving licence. Please note that although courts may approve a reduction in the period of disqualification, this does not affect the period (4 or 11 years depending on the offence) for which the endorsement must legally remain on the driving licence.

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Short Period Disqualifications (SPD)

If you were disqualified for less than 56 days, the court will stamp your licence and give it back to you. The stamp will tell you how long you are disqualified for. You do not need to renew your licence when the short period disqualification ends. Your licence becomes valid again the day after the expiry of the disqualification.

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Drivers who exchange their foreign licence for a GB licence

Drivers who have exchanged a licence from another country for a GB licence and acquire 6 or more valid penalty points are subject to the New Drivers Act, if during the previous 2 years they passed their first driving test in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Gibraltar or another EEA state.

A revoked driver may reclaim his previous entitlement by passing an appropriate test in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Gibraltar or another EEA state.

No other test passes are acceptable including those from 'designated' countries.

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