When does the 6 month time limit for summary offences run from for written charges?
A written charge can be regarded as issued, within the meaning of section 127(1) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, only when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service.
On 17th August 2018, the Appellant was convicted by the North Staffordshire Magistrates of speeding, contrary to a Local Traffic Order, Sections 84 and 89(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. The Appellant had been caught speeding on 19th November 2017, a Notice of Intended Prosecution was sent to him on 22nd November 2017 and, following his completion of a Section 172 statement, a Single Justice Procedure Notice (SJPN) was issued. A written charge was produced by the Prosecutor on 21st April 2018. The SJPN and the written charge were not posted to the Appellant, however, until 23rd May 2018, more than six months after the speeding offence was committed.
The question both at trial and on appeal was whether the prosecution of this summary only offence contravened the six-month time limit set out in s.127(1) of the MCA 1980. The Appellant contended that, although the issue and service of a written charge are discrete steps, in order for the charge to be issued it must either be posted as an acceptable means of service or, at the very least, be "ready to be in the public domain", in the sense of being placed before a Court or being served. Irwin LJ, giving the judgment of the court, rejected such arguments, holding that "the submission that some intervening steps between the completion of the written charge as a document in its final form, and the service process, could in some way complete the process of "issuing" cannot possibly be right." His Lordship concluded that "the written charge can be regarded as issued only when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service".
Obiter, Irwin LJ stated that if a written charge was issued in time but there was "an inordinate or unwarranted or unjustified but significant delay" before that charge was served, the appropriate remedy was abuse of process.
Held: A written charge is to be regarded as issued, within the meaning of s.127(1) of the MCA 1980, only when the document comprising the written charge is completed, with all relevant details and in the form needed for service. If that is completed within the six-month time limit, the charge will have been issued in time.
The appeal was dismissed.
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