What is the Single Justice Procedure?
The Single Justice Procedure (“SJP”) is designed to enable magistrates’ courts to deal with minor offences more efficiently, while still ensuring rigorous, open and fair justice. Whether those aims are in fact met is the subject of some intense debate, with a number of high-profile journalists consistently exposing weaknesses in the system.
535,000 cases were heard by magistrates via the Single Justice Procedure in 2020.
How does it work?
SJP was introduced by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. It allows prosecutors – who decide whether a case should be taken through the procedure – to deal with cases involving adult defendants accused of lesser offences that cannot result in a prison sentence, such as speeding, driving without insurance, TV license evasion and train fare evasion.
Defendants receive a notice containing the charge by post, with a statement setting out the facts of the offence and guidance on what steps to take, including their right to a lawyer. They have the option to plead guilty by post or online, or ask for a court hearing. There must be a hearing if they want to plead not guilty, but defendants sometimes ask for a hearing to plead guilty, for example if they want to argue against a driving ban.
If they plead guilty or do not respond within the 21-day time limit, their case will be dealt with through the SJP. If they plead not guilty or ask for a court hearing, the case goes to a hearing in open court. No defendant can be dealt with via the SJP against their will.
A single magistrate conducts SJP, advised by a professional lawyer dealing with the case on paper. There’s no prosecutor or defendant present. They can deal with the case at any time, rather than on a specific date.
The same law and principles apply to trials in a single justice procedure as a traditional trial. The prosecution must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and their written evidence must satisfy the same rules as evidence in a trial in open court.
How was the Single Justice Procedure expanded?
From 4 January 2023, prosecutors can deal with non-imprisonable cases involving companies without the need to go to court.
For companies, non-imprisonable cases are for lesser offences, such as:
- excess vehicle weight
- lack of or incorrect operator’s licence
- tachograph offences
- failure to give identification of a driver
SJP will be the same for companies as it is for individuals. The decision as to whether to prosecute a company using SJP or in court is decided by the prosecutor.
As with all SJP cases, defendants can still choose to have their case heard in a court. They can also submit a plea on paper, rather than electronically, where needed.
When a company is a defendant, the plea and means forms must be signed by either a:
- company secretary
- company director
- company solicitor
We recommend that any individual or company facing prosecution take early legal advice to secure the best outcome.
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