A Single Justice Procedure Notice (SJPN) is a process used by most Police Forces to commence Court proceedings for motoring offences. You should receive an SJPN within 6 months of the commission of an offence. Single Justice Procedure Notices came into force in 2015 under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and deal with summary-only, none imprisonable offences.
The assumption is that most cases will be resolved by a guilty plea without a formal hearing. Together with the Criminal Justice Simple, Speedy, Summary (CJSSS) program, they are designed to improve the efficiency of the Magistrates’ Court and reduce the number of hearings, supposedly improving overall efficiency and providing a more convenient and prompt conclusion for the motorist.
The SJPN should explain the offence that you face and outline the options available to you, which are:
- Plead guilty
- Plead not guilty
- Request a court hearing.
SJPN hearings are taken place “behind closed doors” and normally within 21 days from the posting of the notice. You will not be given the date of the ‘hearing’ and the court will write to you with the result of the hearing.
Problems with the Single Justice Procedure Notice procedure
Most people, having received an SJPN, simply tick guilty or not guilty and complete the online form. At this stage, you have none of the evidence to substantiate the offence. You will have been provided with very little, or more often, no knowledge at all about the consequences of entering a plea and completing the online form.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the system is problematic.
SJPN’s are sent out in the post, not recorded or special delivery. You have a few weeks to deal with them.
If, for whatever reason, you do not receive the SJPN or don’t deal with it quickly enough, you might find yourself convicted of an offence in your absence and without your knowledge.
The court will then write to you with the outcome which might be:
- Plea accepted and sentence imposed which will include financial penalties
- Plea not accepted because it is unequivocal
- New court date fixed for you to attend in person
A word of caution when completing the online plea
- Having received the SJPN, you are expected to enter a guilty or not guilty plea without seeing any of the evidence upon which the police and prosecution seek to rely
- Once you have entered a guilty plea, it is very difficult, although not impossible, to retract that guilty plea
- Pleas are entered, often with no appreciation of what sentencing options might be available to the court i.e a driving disqualification / hefty fine
- An online plea often results in you having to attend court at a later date to be sentenced
- You may face a dual charge, meaning that you may be doubly punished
- Equivocal pleas- it is not uncommon for people to indicate one plea but then provide additional information on the online form which contradicts the plea. In this situation, the court will have to adjourn for you to attend on person
- A disqualification may be imposed without the opportunity for you to present mitigation
- A disqualification being imposed and you having never received the notification meaning you unwittingly commit a more serious offence than the substantive charge – driving whilst disqualified is a serious offence and carries severe penalties including custodial option with a large fine.
If you receive an SJPN, we would urge you to exercise caution in dealing with the matter without first seeking legal advice.
Contact Rachel Fletcher in our Crime & Regulatory team for guidance or give us a call on 0161 969 3131.