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What do I do if I get a summons?

Carlton Boyce / 05 April 2018

Here’s what you need to know if you receive a summons for a motoring offence.

An older lady worries over receiving a summons

You may be issued with a summons if you’ve committed one of the more serious motoring offences.

A summons is a formal stage in the legal process and must never be ignored; while no-one likes having to deal with the criminal justice system, if you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime…

What is a summons?

Specialist motoring solicitors Keep Me On The Road define a summons as: a legal document which is issued by the Magistrates’ Court for the prosecution of an offence.”  

The summons, sent via the post to the address the police have on file, informs you that you must attend the nominated court at the time and date specified.

The court will be the one local to where the alleged offence took place, and the summons will identify the offence the police believe you have committed.

It will usually have a ‘statement of facts’ appended to it and it may also contain statements from the police officer(s) involved as well as those of any witnesses.

Is there a time limit for being summoned?

A summons must usually be issued within six months of the alleged offence occurring, or within six months of it coming to the attention of the police. This period can be extended to three years, in some cases.

This means that, generally, if you haven’t received one within that timescale, you’ve probably got away with it.

When your summons goes to an old address

However, if you’ve moved home and haven’t updated the address on the V5 registration document for the vehicle in question and/or your driving licence, then it is entirely possible that a summons could have been issued to your old address.

In that case, the court is entitled to assume it has been properly served and will hear the case in your absence. It may even issue a warrant for your arrest.

This is just one of the many reasons why is it vital you tell the DVLA you have moved as soon as you can.

Do you need to inform the DVLA of health issues?

How do you respond to a summons?

You must never ignore a summons in the hope it will go away, because it won’t.

Your options will be detailed within the summons, but you really should seek legal advice from a dedicated motoring solicitor. He or she will explain the options that are open to you and help you decide how you should proceed.

Generally, however, you can reply in writing or online, and may not have to attend court. However, for more serious motoring offences, you do have to attend in person. (If you don’t attend, you may find a warrant for your arrest has been issued.) Again, a solicitor will be able to advise.

What happens next?

If you’ve pleaded ‘not guilty’ then the court will schedule a second hearing in order to hear all the evidence.

If you plead ‘guilty’ then the court will examine the evidence, alongside any mitigation you have provided. It will also look at your driving licence record and any penalty points you might have and consider your financial position before deciding on what punishment it is imposing. A solicitor can help you draft a letter of mitigation.

In cases where the court is considering banning you from driving, it will schedule a second hearing to determine whether this course of action is one it considers appropriate. If this applies to you, you shouldn’t drive again from the date of the second hearing until you have heard whether you have been banned or not.

It’s black and white then?

Not always; the court may require you to attend a second hearing in cases where your mitigation suggests you might have a defence. This is known as an ‘equivocal plea’. Again, a specialist solicitor will be able to advise you if this is the case.

What happens in court?

You are entitled to defend yourself in court, but you really should consider employing an expert to represent yourself unless the matter is very straightforward.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.