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‘Secret’ UK courts are fast-tracking speeding fines say magistrates

New guidance from Magistrates’ Association calls for reform and aims to expose ‘secret’ Single Justice Procedure system

Speed camera van window

Magistrates have accused courts of “fast-tracking” speeding fines, without reviewing all of the necessary pleas and evidence.

In a new 12-point set of recommendations, the UK’s Magistrates' Association called for ‘reform’ and “transparency” on the UK’s Single Justice Procedure, saying the “secret” way it operates can cause harm for “some of society’s most vulnerable people”.

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The Single Justice Procedure (SJP) is the most common judiciary method in the England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own systems), with over 40,000 criminal cases being handled this way each month. It generally covers most motoring offences including speeding, using your phone while driving, overtaking a cyclist dangerously, driving without insurance and running a red light. The courts also use the SJP for things like forgetting to pay your TV licence and travelling on public transport without a valid ticket.

In a nutshell, the SJP means that if one pleads guilty, they do not need to attend court. Those that do plead guilty will need to appear before a magistrate but those that forget to reply within 21 days of receiving the notice will immediately have their prosecution processed without a court hearing.

After some investigation, the Magistrates' Association has concluded that while the SJP “alleviates backlogs and minimises delays”, “a significant proportion [of magistrates] feel they do not always get as much time as they need to properly consider each case.”

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Therefore, new guidance has been issued, with the MA requesting that prosecutors “see all pleas and mitigations before the cases are heard by the magistrate” – something that could potentially alleviate unfair fines from webcam video uploads or other incriminating evidence that may not be fully representative of the scenario. It also states that people are being found guilty of ‘strict liability offences’ – a type of crime that you can be charged for, even without intention, such as believing your car is insured when it isn’t. In the words of the Magistrates' Association, even if “they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal”.

Some of the other 12 recommendations include that SJP sittings should be observable by journalists, that research should be undertaken regarding how to support the vulnerable in court – including the elderly or those with learning difficulties – and that the Ministry of Justice should regularly publish data on how many people are convicted this way and how many plead guilty/not guilty.

All of this comes following public outcry over several stories circulating in the news, including a 78-year-old pensioner with dementia being prosecuted by the DVLA for forgetting to renew the car insurance on his old MG.

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Consumer reporter

Tom is Auto Express' Consumer reporter, meaning he spends his time investigating the stories that matter to all motorists - enthusiasts or otherwise. An ex-BBC journalist and Multimedia Journalism graduate, Tom previously wrote for partner sites Carbuyer and DrivingElectric and you may also spot him throwing away his dignity by filming videos for the Auto Express social media channels.

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