The Single Justice Procedure has been extended, enabling prosecutors to deal with non-imprisonable cases involving companies, without the need to go to court.
The Single Justice Procedure was first introduced in 2015 and has previously only been used to prosecute individuals. The extension of the provisions means that, as of 4 January 2023, companies can now be prosecuted in the same way as individual's for some minor offences. These offences include:-
- Excess vehicle weight;
- Lack of or incorrect operator's licence;
- Tachograph offences;
- Failure to give identification of a driver
The decision whether a company is prosecuted under the Single Justice Procedure or in court is that of the prosecutor. However, as with all Single Justice Procedure cases, the company can choose to have their case heard in open court should they wish to do so.
The process for companies under the Single Justice Procedure will be the same as it is for individuals. A Single Justice Procedural Notice will be served upon the company setting out the charge and brief circumstances of the offence. The company will have 21 days, from the date the notice is served, to respond by either:
- pleading guilty online or by post;
- pleading guilty and requesting a court hearing: or
- pleading not guilty.
The Plea and Means Form's for a company defendant must be signed by either a Company Secretary, Company Director, or Company Solicitor.
If the company pleads guilty, or fails to respond to the notice within the 21 day time limit, a determination will be made by a single magistrate, supported by a legal adviser, on the papers before them. The company will be notified in writing of the decision. Upon entry of a not guilty plea, or a guilty plea requesting a hearing, a hearing date will be arranged and the company notified of the date that they need to attend court.
Whilst having a case dealt with without the need to attend court may seem an attractive proposition, it should be considered that, the single magistrate can impose financial penalties, costs and penalty points. Further, if the company holds an operator's licence, the conviction could be notifiable to the Traffic Commissioner and impact upon their licence.
Upon receipt of a Single Justice Procedure Notice it is important that legal advice is obtained. This will ensure the correct plea is entered, all relevant mitigation is presented (if appropriate) and the best outcome is sought for the company.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.