What is a court summons?

Getting a court summons for an alleged motoring offence through the post is an alarming moment. But try not to panic.
We’ve put together a brief guide to help you understand what a summons means, how you can respond, and what the court process involves. Of course, we recommend you consult a legal professional, too: they’re the experts, and they can look at your individual circumstances to give you personalised advice and guidance.
Even if you’re convicted, a court appearance doesn’t have to spell the end of your driving career. At Insurance Factory, we know that drivers can learn from their mistakes, and we believe in helping them get back on the road safely with convicted driver insurance.


Court summons: the basics

A summons is a legal document issued by a Magistrates’ Court that notifies you that proceedings are starting against you for an alleged offence.
It will address you by name, and should also include your address and date of birth. It will also state what offence you’re alleged to have committed.
The summons will tell you when and where your court hearing will take place. The court will be one that serves the area where the offence is alleged to have taken place.
Never ignore a court summons – it won’t just disappear. If you don’t respond, the Court will take action against you, which could have serious implications.

When will I be issued with an FPN instead of a court summons?

A fixed penalty notice (FPN) is issued for a minor motoring offence in which nobody gets hurt, such as slightly exceeding the speed limit. Most people just pay the fine and accept the penalty points (or speed awareness course as an alternative, if offered), tell their insurance provider, then put the matter behind them. You’ll only go to court if you choose to dispute the FPN.

How long after an offence will I get a summons?

You might have heard that a court summons must be issued within six months, and that if you hear nothing within this time frame, you can breathe a sigh of relief. However, that’s not quite the case.
The six-month deadline is for police to lodge sufficient information with the court to start the process. There can be further delays in processing paperwork or getting a court date before your summons is issued. So unfortunately, you could be in for an agonising wait.
For certain offences, if there’s a delay in identifying you as the driver, the six-month time frame starts from the moment the police have the necessary information, rather than the date of the offence.


How can I respond?

The summons will lay out your options. It’s highly advisable to consult a solicitor to find the best way forward for you.
You might be sent a statement of facts, plus statements from the police officer and any witnesses. You could be given the opportunity to respond to this statement in writing or online: you can do this instead of or in addition to attending the court hearing.
For more serious offences, you won’t be supplied with a statement of facts, and you won’t be given the option of replying by post. Instead, you will have to attend court in person. You might be warned that if you don’t show up at the hearing on the specified date, the court could order a warrant for your arrest.

Pleading guilty by post or online

If you’ve been given the opportunity to do so, the simplest course of action – though not necessarily the one that’s right for you – is to plead guilty in writing.
You’ll be able to respond to the statement of facts and provide any mitigating evidence. You’ll also have to provide a statement of means to guide the magistrates in determining the level of fine you’ll have to pay.
The court hearing can take place in your absence – you can attend if you like, but it won’t lead to a lower penalty. Magistrates will consider the details in the statement of facts and your mitigating evidence, as well as your driving record.
After the hearing, you’ll be informed of the penalty, which will be a fine and endorsements on your licence. You won’t be disqualified at a first hearing where you were advised that you didn’t have to attend.
You should tell your insurance provider about your conviction. Most penalties have to be declared for five years, which could make it harder to get insurance cover. At Insurance Factory, we’re specialists in arranging convicted driver insurance, so get a quote from us.

Pleading not guilty by post

If you’re given the option of responding in writing rather than in person, you can also plead not guilty.
You should outline what you’re disputing, and give details of any witnesses who can back you up.
The court will then adjourn the hearing to a later date so that a trial can take place. If you’re found guilty at this trial, the penalty is likely to be higher and the prosecution will apply for costs against you, too.

Equivocal pleas

Sometimes, people respond in writing with a plea of guilty, but a mitigating statement that suggests they have a defence. This is called an equivocal plea, and the magistrates are likely to require you to attend court to explain your case.

What happens if I don’t respond to a court summons?

You really must respond to your court summons one way or another!
Your summons will be sent to the address you gave police after the incident, or the address where your vehicle is registered. So one reason why you might fail to respond is if you’ve moved house and failed to notify the authorities of your new address. In that case, the court summons could go to a previous address.
If you don’t respond to your court summons, the court has the power to decide your case in your absence and issue you with penalty points and a fine. You can’t be disqualified at a first hearing, but the court could list a second hearing and send you notification of that.
If you ignore this, or it goes to an old address, you could end up disqualified without realising, and might continue to drive unaware that your licence and insurance were now invalid, leading to even more legal trouble!
So always keep your address up to date on all your official documents.

Attending court

If the court is considering disqualifying you from driving, or imposing another serious penalty, you’ll be required to attend in person.
If you have to attend your hearing, or choose to do so, you really should consider proper legal representation. While you can represent yourself in court, the legal world is a complex one, and getting it wrong could have serious implications.
If you plead guilty, the case will usually be settled on the day. You or your lawyer will be able to set out mitigating circumstances, or give reasons why magistrates should not impose a heavy penalty such as a driving ban. For example, if your job relies on driving, you might manage to demonstrate that losing it will leave you or your family in severe hardship.
If you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned till a trial at a later date. Most motoring offences are ‘summary’, meaning they will be tried in a Magistrates’ Court, not by a jury at a Crown Court.
It’s also possible to plead guilty, but dispute certain factual elements of the case against you. For example, you might accept that you were speeding, but disagree that you were way over the limit. Your case could be adjourned to a Newton hearing in front of a single judge.


Will I get a criminal record?

This is surprisingly complicated to answer!
If you accept an FPN, you will not have a criminal conviction as the matter has been dealt with outside the courts. But it will be recorded on the police national computer, and you’ll need to disclose it to insurance providers, potential employers and so on for a specified length of time (usually five years).
If you go to court and either plead guilty or are found guilty, you have a criminal conviction. Again, it will be recorded on the police national computer and you’ll have to disclose it until it’s spent. But you won’t have a criminal record unless the offence is considered ‘recordable’.
So what makes an offence recordable? Generally, it’s one which carries a potential prison sentence – even if you are in fact given a lesser penalty. If you are convicted of one of these, you have a criminal record.
There are some exceptions to the above categories, so always check with a legal professional.
Examples of offences where you’ll have a criminal conviction but no record include careless driving, and failing to provide driver details. Examples of recordable offences include dangerous driving, and drink driving.
And regardless of whether you have a criminal record or not, any endorsement or conviction can lead to problems getting insurance. At Insurance Factory, we’re specialists in arranging insurance for convicted drivers to get you safely back on the road.

Aren’t there lots of loopholes?

You’ve probably come across cases in the media where drivers have been let off motoring offences on what looks like a technicality. While lawyers do have plenty of clever tactics up their sleeves, don’t bank on it!
Some people believe that if there’s a mistake on their court summons or statement of facts, this will lead to the magistrates throwing your case out of court. But that’s not likely to be true.
If it’s just a minor error, such as a spelling mistake, then it will just be amended at the court hearing. You can only successfully challenge errors if you can show that they’ve really damaged the case against you.
That said, you do need to consult a lawyer. Even if they can’t get you off scot-free, they can often help you set out a good mitigation that could well lead to a lower penalty. Plus, they’ll guide you through the court process, which can otherwise feel overwhelming.

What happens in court?

If you’re charged with a summary offence, it will be heard in a Magistrates’ Court before three lay magistrates or a single judge.
The court clerk will read out the charges against you, and you’ll be asked how you wish to plead.
If you are pleading not guilty, the prosecution then states their case against you and present evidence to the court, like video footage. You or your solicitor then make your case and present any evidence you have. Then it’s up to the magistrates or judge to make their decision.
If you’re found not guilty, you are free to go. You can apply later to have your legal costs reimbursed.
If you plead or are found guilty, you or your solicitor will be able to put forward a mitigating statement to try to get your penalty reduced. Usually, the judge or magistrates will sentence you straight away.
However, the judge or magistrates could ask for pre-sentencing reports, and adjourn your case to a later date. Or they could decide that this is a more serious offence that merits a tougher penalty than one they’re able to give. If this happens, your case will be moved to the Crown Court for sentencing.
Hopefully, this stressful experience will soon be behind you – and with convicted driver insurance, you could soon be back at the wheel, too.

Get a quote from Insurance Factory today

At Insurance Factory, we don’t judge you if you’ve been convicted of a motoring offence. We just want to help you get back safely in the driver’s seat as soon as possible.
We have over 20 years’ experience in arranging specialist convicted driver insurance through a panel of trusted providers. We can arrange insurance for motorists convicted of driving without insurance, drink-driving, dangerous driving, and non-motoring offences, among others.
So get in contact today to discuss your situation.