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Caught speeding - what happens in a Magistrates Court?
Having to go to the Magistrates Court concerning a speeding allegation can be an intimidating experience, particularly if you haven’t been to court before. The many courtroom dramas on TV don’t help, as they tend to falsely portray a courtroom as an overly hostile environment. This article is to help familiarise you with the court procedure in an attempt to calm nerves and make you feel more prepared.
Court summons for speeding and postal requisitions
You will be notified of the date and time you are to attend court by way of a court summons for speeding. You may instead of a court summons receive in the post a postal requisition the purpose of which is again to inform you of when you are due in court.
If you are at risk of being disqualified then don't drive yourself to court because the Magistrates will take a dim view of this. If there is no risk of a ban and you do drive to court bear in mind that all Magistrates Courts do not have on-site parking and you will probably need to allow enough time to find a nearby carpark and walk to the court.
What happens at court before the hearing?
Always remember to take your driving licence to court. When you arrive at the court you will go through an “airport-like” security system. You will then need to report to the court reception to say that you have arrived. You should also mention at this point if you have a solicitor, or barrister, who will be meeting you. While you are waiting complete a statement of means form, which the court reception will be able to give you. This documents your financial circumstances. If you are sentenced, the Magistrates will use this form to look at your take-home pay to work out what size fine you should pay. They will also look at the expenses that you have put down on this form when deciding the size and frequency of the instalments for paying the amount owing to the court. Even if you have come to the court for a trial you should still complete the statement of means form in case you are found guilty.
If you are attending for a trial, make sure that your witnesses have arrived at the court. If any haven’t arrived then ring them and check that they are on their way. If any of them are delayed then let the court know as soon as possible.
What will happen if I have my own solicitor or barrister representing me at the court?
If you are represented by a solicitor or a barrister, they should locate you soon after your arrival. If possible, they will take you to one of the court’s interview rooms for a pre- hearing consultation. These rooms are often busy so if you manage to get such a room, don’t leave it unoccupied otherwise someone else will use it. Pass your completed means form to your solicitor, along with your driving licence and any letters in support of your case that you have obtained. All the preparation for your case should have already been carried out, however, your solicitor or barrister will want to go over the court procedure with you. They will hopefully know the court and should be able to advise you who the prosecutor, court clerk (legal advisor) and Magistrates or district judge will be for that day and how this might influence the hearing. If you have any last minute questions, this is the time to ask you legal representative.
Will I have to wait long at the magistrates court?
Normally when someone attends the magistrates court for a motoring offence, the hearing will either be listed for 10am for a morning hearing, or if it is to be in the afternoon
it will normally be listed for 2pm. However bear in mind that a lot of other cases will have been listed for the same time and therefore there could be a very long wait. Also, rightly or wrongly, cases involving prisoners normally take priority over less serious motoring offence cases.
Even if you have a trial, the court may have booked your trial to take place at the same time as another trial and there may therefore be a long wait while the other trial is heard first. This will be especially likely if the other trial concerns domestic violence, as such cases are almost always given priority over motoring matters.
If your case is listed to be heard in the morning, for the above reasons, it is not impossible that in fact it won’t be heard until the afternoon. If it is an afternoon case there is also a chance that the court will run out of time and your case will have to be put over until another day. This is something that most people are very anxious to avoid as they have often taken time off work to attend court, and taking another day off can be difficult. If you have a solicitor, or barrister, representing you, you can ask them to make representations to the court as to why your matter should not be delayed.
Can you come to an agreement with the prosecutor before the hearing?
You, your solicitor, or barrister, may want to use the time before the hearing takes place to make representations to the prosecutor. This could be the case if you face two allegations and you want the prosecution to drop one in return for a guilty plea to the other. For example, if you are accused of a speeding offence and an allegation of failing to identify the driver that arose out of the speeding matter then it is very common for a prosecutor to agree to drop the matter of failing to identify the driver in return for a guilty plea to the speeding offence.
Another common scenario may occur where you were going to plead guilty to an offence but you disagree with the way that the prosecutor intends to describe what took place in court. You, or your legal representative, could offer the prosecutor a guilty plea in return for them agreeing to modify what they were going to say about what took place.
Such “deals” should be done when the Magistrates are out of the court, and therefore should take place either before the court starts hearing cases, or during the lunch-break. However, you ,or your representative, will also get a chance to speak to the prosecutor if the Magistrates decide to retire to consider another case. The usher for that court will be able to inform you when this has happened.
What will you do when you are ready to have your case called?
When you feel ready to go into the court, you, or your legal representative, should let the usher know. The ushers are unmistakeable as they wear long black gowns and can be seen frequently entering and leaving the courtroom. The usher should then be able to give you a time estimate as to when your case will be called. This will depend on how many cases were ready before yours. Bear in mind that this time estimate can radically change and therefore you shouldn’t stray far from the courtroom.
What happens at the start of a Magistrates Court hearing?
Eventually the usher will notify you that your case has been called. You and your legal representative, if you have one, will now enter the courtroom. If you are pleading guilty your solicitor, or barrister, will pass to the court clerk (legal advisor) your driving licence, completed statement of means form, and any letters or medical evidence in support of your case.
The usher will show you where to stand. If you are facing a non-imprisonable allegation (for example speeding) this will normally be in front of the dock. If, however, you are facing an allegation of an imprisonable offence (for example, drink driving) this will normally be in the dock itself. The first person to address you will be the court clerk (legal advisor). You should remain standing while you are addressed. You will be asked to confirm your name and date of birth. The motoring allegation will then be put to you and you will be expected to say whether you plead guilty or not guilty.
What is the procedure if you are pleading guilty to a motoring allegation?
If you plead guilty to speeding, or any other motoring allegation, then normally the court clerk will ask you to sit down after this. The prosecutor will then stand up and will then explain the nature of the allegation to the Magistrates. After this, you, or your legal representative, will be asked to stand up and will be able to put forward favourable points about your case. This is called mitigation. If you are before the court for a relatively high speeding matter then this will normally involve trying to persuade the magistrates not to order a driving disqualification but instead to impose penalty points on your driving licence. If you are pleading guilty to a drink driving offence then a minimum 12 month ban is compulsory but you, or your legal representative, will still want to address the Magistrates as to why your ban shouldn’t be much longer than this.
What is an exceptional hardship argument?
If you are pleading guilty, or are found guilty, of a motoring offence such as speeding and this brings your total amount of points to 12 penalty point or more then the Magistrates are meant to disqualify you for at least 6 months. However, if you, or your legal representative, can persuade the Magistrates that you, or others, will suffer exceptional hardship then provided you haven’t used these arguments in the previous 3 years the Magistrates can choose not to disqualify you at all, or to disqualify you for less then 6 months.
What is the procedure involved in an exceptional hardship argument?
The procedure involved in an exceptional hardship argument consists of you first taking the oath, or making an affirmation, that you will tell the truth before the court. You, or your legal representative, can then put forward all the reasons why you and others would suffer exceptional hardship if you couldn’t drive. It is much easier if you have a solicitor, or barrister, who can ask you questions in the hearing and so prompt you to give the relevant information to the court, and hopefully back these arguments with written documentation. After you have put forward your arguments then the prosecutor will be able to ask you questions and they may try to undermine your case. You, or your legal representative, can then make a closing speech. The Magistrates will then normally retire to decide if they find exceptional hardship. They will then re-enter the courtroom and announce their decision.
What is the procedure involved in a trial for a motoring allegation?
After you have reconfirmed your not-guilty plea to the speeding allegation or any other motoring matter, the prosecutor will outline the case against you. Once this opening speech has taken place, the prosecutor will call the witnesses they want to rely on in the trial. For example, concerning a speeding allegation they may call the police officer who recorded your speed to give evidence. The prosecutor will be able to ask their witnesses questions first. Once this has taken place you, or your legal representative, will be able to ask the prosecution witnesses questions.
After all the prosecution witnesses have been questioned, then it will be your turn to give evidence. You will be asked to give your account to the Magistrates as to what took place. If you have a legal representative they will help you to do this by asking you questions. After this, the prosecutor will then be able to question you.
When you have finished giving your evidence, you, or your legal representative, will be able to call your witnesses to give their accounts. These will be people who will be able to support your defence. For example, in a speeding case someone who was in the car with you who can say that you didn’t exceed the speed limit (it should be noted that your witness should not have been in the courtroom before being called to give evidence or they would be barred from doing so). As they are your witnesses, they will first be questioned by you or your legal representative, and then by the prosecutor.
It should be noted that when anyone gives evidence at a trial they will first be asked to swear an oath. This will either be done using a religious text, or if they so choose they could just affirm that they are telling the truth.
After the Magistrates have heard all the evidence then you, or your legal representative, will be able to make a closing speech summing up the nature of your defence. The Magistrates will then normally retire to make their decision, before coming back into court to say whether they find you guilty or not guilty. If you are found not guilty, the case is over and you can leave the courtroom. If you are found guilty then the Magistrates will normally proceed straight onto sentencing you. You, or your legal representative, can then ask for leniency. Often this will involve a request that you are not disqualified. The Magistrates may then retire once more before sentencing you.
Should you have a solicitor or barrister to represent you in the Magistrates Court?
You will see from the above that whatever type of hearing you have before the Magistrates Court concerning a motoring allegation, matters can become complex and a solicitor or barrister to guide you through the process will greatly increase your chances of success. They will be skilled at trying to come to an agreement, if necessary, with the prosecutor before the hearing takes place, or in cross-examining prosecution witnesses during a trial, or in asking for leniency if you are pleading or are found guilty, or putting you in a favourable light before the court during an exceptional hardship argument.
It is crucial that your solicitor or barrister, if you are using one, not only should have years of experience dealing with cases of this type, but that they should also be familiar with that particular Magistrates Court. This is because all Magistrates Courts do things a little differently from each other, and being familiar with that court’s particular methods, and also with the Magistrates, prosecutors and court staff themselves, is a huge advantage.
At Speeding Law Solicitors we have a very high success rate for representing clients throughout England and Wales. Philip Hatvany, our founding solicitor, from 2011 to the present day, has a 94% success rate for exceptional hardship cases, and an 85% success rate for winning motoring trials going back to 2011. If you receive a court summons for speeding, or any other motoring allegation, call him now on FREEPHONE 0800 909 8110 for free initial advice.