Do not miss the deadline
The most crucial thing to understand is that you should respond to the SJPN before the deadline. You have only 21 days from the date shown on the notice (this is the date it was issued or sent to you).
The deadline to respond to the SJPN cannot be extended.
If you do not respond before the deadline, you will have missed the chance to enter a ‘not guilty’ plea and you will be assumed to be guilty. You will also have missed the opportunity to plead guilty and explain any mitigating factors, or to receive a reduced fine, and you may be asked to pay the fine in a lump sum that you cannot afford.
If you have any difficult personal circumstances, and you explain them, it is possible that the prosecuting authority (which might be TV licensing, the police, the local authority, Transport For London etc) may agree not to prosecute you. That is because prosecuting you has to be 'in the public interest'. To determine this they are supposed to consider things like if you were suffering from serious ill health, are a victim of abuse, or are already experiencing severe financial hardship.
Similarly, if the offence was committed due to a genuine mistake you should explain that as they may agree to not prosecute you.
We recommend that if any of the above apply to your situation, or did at the time the offence took place, you write to the prosecuting authority separately to formally ask them to drop the charges against you because of your exceptional circumstances. You should do this as well as responding to the SJPN because of the tight deadline.
Are you guilty or innocent?
A person is guilty if they committed the act they are accused of and have no ‘viable defence’.
They are not guilty if they did not do the thing they are accused of or if they did but they have a 'viable defence'.
Working out if you have a viable defence is very hard if you cannot access legal advice.
If you can afford it, and if something important (other than money) is at stake like your ability to drive, it would be worth paying for legal advice.
We will post further information here about viable defences and where you may be able to get free or affordable legal advice as soon as we can.
If you think you are guilty
If you respond and plead guilty you will get a 33% reduction in the fine.
You are also asked if you want to attend court or not. In many cases attending won’t be necessary. If you choose not to attend court, you will also not have to pay any court costs.
There is also the opportunity to enter information for the magistrate or something called ‘mitigation’. If the offence was committed by mistake or was caused by something that the magistrate should know about when considering the sentence/fine, take this opportunity to explain. Include everything that is relevant.
You should also use this box to explain any difficult personal circumstances, including any health or disability issues you have or anyone you care for, if you are the victim of domestic violence or another type of crime, and any financial difficulties you are already facing.
Ask them to drop the charges
If you have a good explanation for how or why the offence was committed, or if your personal circumstances are difficult already, write to the prosecuting body (for example TV licensing, the local authority, police) separately and formally request that they drop the charges against you due to your personal circumstances. If you have been charged with watching TV with no TV licence, the Appeal site have template letters you can adapt and use.
We will create template letters for other offences as soon as we can.
If you think you are innocent
If you plead not guilty you will be asked if you have any evidence to submit to support your case. This could be proof that you had a TV licence, a good reason that your child wasn't in school, or that you had paid the transport fare, etc.
Or it could be a witness statement. The CPS website explains how witness statement templates need to be set out and what rules they need to follow.
It is also possible to argue that there are public interest reasons why you shouldn't be prosecuted or why your fine should be minimal. If you are doing that then you could submit medical evidence or anything else that supports your explanation of your difficult circumstances - for example, pay slips, documents showing your eligibility for benefits.
If the case has already been dealt with without you knowing about it
Some people don't find out that they have been accused of an offence until they have been convicted of it. If this has happened to you, try not to panic.
We know that it can be really upsetting and stressful to find out you have been convicted of a crime you didn't even know about.
There are things you can do. You can ask to have the case reopened and the decision set aside using the Statutory Declaration of Ignorance of Proceedings form. You should make the statutory declaration within 21 days of finding out about your case. If the 21 days have already passed, you will have to submit reasons for requiring a time extension in the form.
About this guide
This guide has been written by Advicenow in response to the fact that there appears to be very little free help for people who are accused of a minor crime/receive a single Justice Procedure Notice (SJPN). We will add to it as soon as we have funding to do so.
If you know of any helpful information we should be linking to, please contact us.
Please also get in touch if you have experience of either receiving a SJPN or supporting clients who do and are willing to help us improve this free guide.