Magistrates’ Court Digital Plea Scheme – driver convenience or tick-box justice?

Starting this month, drivers caught by speed cameras or facing other motoring offences will be able to plead guilty or not guilty online.

Following a pilot in Manchester, the ‘Make a Plea’ scheme will be extended to Magistrates’ Courts across England and Wales.

During the Manchester trial, around 1,200 people – a third of applicable Defendants – used the website to enter a plea.

Defendants should still get maximum credit for early guilty pleas whether they use the website, plead guilty by letter, or attend in person.

How does it work?

The scheme applies only to motoring offences, such as speeding, using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, failing to identify a vehicle driver and driving without insurance. In these types of cases, Defendants will be now be able to enter their plea online without appearing in court.

Defendants can see their case details online and view some, but not necessarily all, of the evidence against them before indicating their plea.

Relatively minor motoring offences accounted for 500,000 court appearances last year.

The new digital system means defendants will be able to make their plea from any device, including tablets and phones, 24-hours-a-day through a secure website.

Who can use it? 

The service is offered as an alternative to pleading guilty or not guilty by post or attending court. However you enter your plea, cases will be dealt with by Magistrates or a District Judge, not a “virtual Court” and should receive exactly the same consideration. Some motoring lawyers fear however that the scheme may lead to “tick-box” justice; only time will tell.

The scheme only applies to Summons cases. In some circumstances you may still have to attend Court in person, for instance if you at risk of a penalty points disqualification (“totting-up”), or your speed was very high. Similarly, if you plead not guilty, or wish to argue “Special Reasons”, the Court will in most cases adjourn your case for trial on a later date and you will need to attend then.

The scheme does not apply to people who have been charged and bailed to attend Court, so for example in drink driving cases, motorists will still need to attend.

If you aren’t sure how to plead, or are at risk of disqualification, you should take legal advice. A wrong decision could have serious consequences.

Richard Silver CTA Call us on 0808 231 3908