Below are the basics of what an individual should do immediately following being charged by police or receiving a summons in the post.
There are two ways that an individual can be brought before the criminal courts and this is either by summons or charge.
In the vast majority of cases commonly referred to as road traffic offences such as speeding, driving without due care and attention and no insurance, an individual will often receive a summons through the post informing them of a court date. A summons is information which must be served on an individual within six months of the offence allegedly having been committed.
The second way is as a result of a charge; this inevitably will mean an individual has attended a police station either voluntarily or under arrest and a custody sergeant will formally charge an individual, hand them a charge sheet and give them a court date.
Of course, individuals that are charged are not taken by surprise as opposed to those who receive summonses through the post – often for minor road traffic offences which it had been hoped would not be proceeded with.
In either of the above situations, the individual will have a court date to work towards.
In a fair percentage of cases where the police charge with an offence(s), an individual would have engaged the services of a solicitor during the investigation process and that solicitor quite often will continue to act for the individual during the magistrate court proceedings and beyond. However, sometimes an individual has not instructed a solicitor during the police investigation and if a charge is preferred it is at this stage that an individual should – before they do anything else with the case – consider instructing a solicitor.
Depending on the nature of the charge, legal aid may be available or a decision may be made to instruct a solicitor privately.
Often the introduction of a specialist criminal solicitor will come as a result of a personal recommendation or a referral from a non-criminal firm of solicitors. However, when neither of those options are available to the individual, it is suggested that you do your research; you look at the internet; you look at legal directories rating criminal firms of solicitors. Do not always go to the firm closest to you; you should look to approach the firm to represent that is most tailored to your needs.
If you are instructing a firm on a private basis, you may find that those firms to be instructed privately may approach the case on a different basis. Many will offer a one case, one fee proposal indicating that there will be a total fee payable regardless of how much work will need to be carried out in connection with your case. Other firms may quote hourly rates and will only charge for work actually conducted on the case.
If you eligible for legal aid and the case is serious enough to warrant the grant of legal aid, you will find plenty of very good firms conducting legal aid work and, again, it is a question of looking around and finding a firm that you feel comfortable with. Legal aid is not a free, unfettered right to all individuals and even those eligible to apply for legal aid may be subject to contributions depending on whether the case is tried in the Magistrate’s or the Crown court. Your solicitor will advise you of the nature and frequency of the contributions if they apply in your case.
In cases where individuals receive a summons, a court date will be given to them several weeks after the date the summons is received. Again, if the individual does not have a solicitor already, they should consider speaking to one straight away. In cases involving summons you are able to plead guilty by post, not guilty by post or indicate an intention to attend court to either plead guilty or not guilty. Expert advice is often required at an early stage to advise an individual as to what plea should be entered to what offences as often some contain more than one offence, particularly relating to road traffic matters; and if a guilty plea is entered what sentences are likely to be handed out. In terms of road traffic offences: disqualification, penalty points and a fine.
As opposed to cases involving criminal charges where often legal aid is available, in the vast majority of cases involving summons, legal aid is not available as the offences on the summons regularly result in no more than an individual receiving penalty points and a fine and the offence will not attract in any circumstances a prison sentence. There are exceptions such as for offences of dangerous driving and failing to leave details following an accident, but for the majority of offences, individuals either need to instruct a solicitor on a private basis or represent themselves.
Many individuals not in a position to instruct solicitors privately will turn to the internet. There are various websites out there offering advice and individuals facing court on road traffic offences. Please be careful when consulting these sites as some of the information contained is not accurate and can be misleading.
Author: Miles Herman
Published on 11th December 2013
(Last updated 16th December 2014)