Time limits the Police must comply with to prosecute you

Many road traffic offences are purely summary offences and in most cases proceedings are taken by way of the laying of an information and the issue of a summons. Hence time limits are of particular significance since for various reasons substantial delay may occur before it is decided to institute proceedings. The point must also be borne in mind if it is intended at a later date to add further charges.

Laying of the information

Section 127 Magistrates' Court Act 1980 states that for all summary offences the information must be laid within six calendar months of the commission of the offence, except where any other Act expressly provides otherwise.

The following points need to be borne in mind:

  • It is not necessary for the information to be personally received by a justice or by the clerk. It is enough that it is received by a member of his staff impliedly authorised to receive it. In R -v- Pontypridd Juvenile Court ex p B [1988] CLR 842 it was held that an information could be laid by being input into a terminal at a police station of a computer system which was linked to the Court, even though it was not printed out at the Court end until later.
  • In computing the limitation period the day on which the offence was committed is not included.
  • So long as the information is laid within six months, the issue and service of the summons and the subsequent determination may all occur outside that period.
  • Laying an information within the six months' time limit before deciding whether or not to prosecute may result in the proceedings being stayed as an abuse of process; see R -v- Brentford Magistrates' Court ex parte Wong [1981] 1 All ER 884.

The six months' time limit applies to most summary road traffic offences, but statutory exceptions do occur. In particular:

  • Section 6 RTOA 1988; and
  • Section 24 RTOA 1988.

Exceptions to the six month time limit

Section 6 provides a special time limit for offences listed in Column 3, Schedule 1 RTOA 1988, and for aiding and abetting those offences. When it applies, proceedings must be brought within six months from the date on which sufficient evidence came to the knowledge of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings; but must not be brought more than three years after the commission of the offence in any event.
Section 6 applies to the following offences under the RTA:

  • driving after making a false declaration as to physical fitness [section 92(10)]
  • failing to notify Secretary of State of onset or deterioration of disability [section 94(3)]
  • driving after such a failure
  • driving after refusal of licence under section 92 or 93 (section 94A)
  • failure to surrender licence following revocation (section 99)
  • obtaining driving licence, or driving, whilst disqualified [section 103(1)]
  • using an uninsured motor vehicle (section 143)
  • making a false statement to obtain a driving licence or certificate of insurance (section 174)
  • issuing false documents (section 175).

Under section 6(3) a certificate signed by or on behalf of the prosecutor, stating the date on which the necessary evidence cane to his knowledge, is conclusive evidence of that fact. Such a certificate is deemed under sub-section (4) to have been so signed unless the contrary is proved. The certificate should be signed by the appropriate police officer.