The Single Justice Procedure (SJP) is a legal process for low-level criminal offences that can be dealt with without the need for a full trial. It was introduced in 2015 as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act and is used to deal with summary-only offences such as traffic offences.
Under the SJP, a single magistrate or legal advisor can make decisions on cases without the need for a full hearing. This is done by considering written evidence submitted by the prosecution and the defendant and deciding based on that evidence.
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What Happens If You Receive a Notice?
If you receive a Single Justice Procedure Notice, you are required to indicate whether you plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ when responding.
- If you plead guilty, you don’t have to attend court. Instead, the magistrate will make a ruling based on the available information. You will be notified of the magistrate’s decision through a letter.
- You can also plead guilty and elect to attend court to put your mitigation forward.
- If you plead ‘not guilty’, you must appear in court and give your account to the magistrates in person. You will receive a letter specifying the date for your court appearance.
Defendants have the right to make representations to the single magistrate or legal advisor, but they do not have the right to a full trial with a judge and jury. The SJP is designed to streamline the criminal justice system and reduce costs, but it has been criticised by some for limiting the rights of defendants and not allowing for a full hearing.
If you do not respond within 21 days, the magistrate will make a decision about your case without your input and based on the information they have.
Are There Any Concerns?
Supporters argue that it helps to reduce the backlog of low-level criminal cases, saves time and resources, and provides a more efficient and proportionate response to minor offences.
However, critics argue that the SJP limits defendants’ rights and that the process can be unfair and inconsistent, particularly in cases where the defendant disputes the allegations.
There have also been concerns raised about potential errors in decision-making by single magistrates or legal advisors, as they may not have the same level of experience and training as full-time judges.
What are Summary Only Offences?
A summary-only offence is a criminal offence that can only be tried in a Magistrates’ Court. These are typically less serious and carry lower maximum sentences compared to indictable offences, which can be tried in higher courts like Crown Court.
Examples include minor traffic offences, low-level theft, some types of assault, and public order. In general, summary-only offences carry a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine, although some carry a higher penalty.
Previously summary-only offences were heard and decided by a bench of magistrates or a district judge sitting alone. There is no right to a jury trial for summary-only offences, and the proceedings are generally simpler and quicker compared to trials for indictable offences.
What Sentences Can Be Imposed?
Under the Single Justice Procedure, prison sentences can’t be imposed. The magistrate can impose:
- Victim surcharges
- Prosecution costs
- Driving licence penalty points
The Role of Solicitors
- Legal advice: advice on the charges you are facing, the potential penalties, and your legal rights and options.
- Representation in court: A solicitor can represent you in court and present your case to the magistrates or district judge. They can argue on your behalf, cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence to support your case.
- Plea negotiation: If appropriate, a solicitor can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution, which may result in a reduced sentence or charges being dropped.
- Mitigation: Solicitors can present mitigating factors to the court, which may help to reduce the severity of the sentence imposed. Mitigating factors can include things like personal circumstances, mental health issues, or the fact that the offence was out of character.
- Appeals: If you are found guilty of a summary-only offence, a solicitor can help you to appeal the decision if there are grounds to do so.
The Single Justice Procedure has become a critical component of the criminal justice system. While it has its critics, it has proven effective in dealing with a large number of cases, reducing court backlogs, and providing a quicker and more cost-effective alternative to traditional court proceedings. As with any legal process, it is essential to seek legal advice if you are facing criminal charges and to ensure that you fully understand your rights and options.