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Section 172 Notices and invalid prosecutions

Police in Greater Manchester have taken the decision to abandon hundreds of cases against drivers because summonses were not issued in time and this may have implications for many similar cases.

It is worth being clear what a Section 172 notice is. It derives its name from Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and gives the police authority to require a registered keeper of a vehicle to state who was driving the vehicle on a particular date and time. They very commonly arrive after a vehicle has been photographed speeding.

The law requires the registered keeper to comply within 28 days, and if he does not an offence is committed. It carries 6 points on conviction, so can quickly get someone half way to 12 and disqualification, or worse all the way there.

If a registered keeper is to be prosecuted for failing to provide details of the driver, a summons must be issued within 6 months of the date of the offence. The person who fails to comply with the notice commits the offence on the expiration of the period of 28 days.

To take an example, the registered keeper of a vehicle photographed speeding by a speed camera on the 30 October 2011 at 10.30 in the morning might receive a notice under Section 172 on the 10 November 2011. It ought to arrive in 14 days of the offence, and it will give 28 days to provide the identity of the driver on that date and time. An offence is committed if by the 9 November the information has not been provided.

It is quite common for reminders or second requests to be sent out, and if this fails to produce the required information a summons will usually follow. So in my example a reminder might be sent out on the 10 November giving another 28 days to comply, expiring on the 8 December 2011. A reminder is not a requirement and one might not be sent.

If a summons is to be issued the law requires that to be done within 6 months of the offence, and in my example that would be the 9 May 2012, 6 months from the expiry of the first notice and not the reminder which would be 8 June 2012.

Summonses issued late are invalid, simple as that.. What sometimes happens is that the time for calculating the 6 months period is taken from the end of the reminder, and if it’s issued late in the 6 month period it risks being issued before the 8 June but after the 9 May.

Greater Manchester Police have apparently realised this and decided that summonses issued late because of the reminder process should be withdrawn as being invalid. It potentially opens up the possibility of wrongful convictions being looked at and may affect hundreds of drivers and registered keepers.

It emphasises the importance of carefully checking dates on court and other paperwork.

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