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Sending Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIPs) by ordinary first class post – a false economy?

NIPs for motoring offences are almost always sent by ordinary first class post. Motoring Solicitor Lucy Whitaker considers whether this method needs to change.

I recently represented yet another client in court in relation to an allegation that he’d failed to respond to an NIP. The notice had been sent by the Central Ticket Office following an alleged speeding offence five days before. My client’s defence was that he hadn’t responded to the NIP because he hadn’t received it. Of course if you don’t receive something, you cannot respond.

The driver in question was facing a totting up disqualification (ie min 6 months) if he couldn’t prove that he hadn’t received the notice. But how do you prove you haven’t received something?

The only real option is for the driver to give evidence in court, face cross-examination, and then it’s up to the court to decide if he or she is telling the truth.

The District Judge in my case found my client not guilty, but he did remark that it was surprising how many of these NIPs go astray in the post. He commented that there appeared to be no end of people attempting to argue this in court.

Well this is probably true, and if so, when the courts are already under such pressure, it needs to be addressed. But if a person genuinely hasn’t received an NIP in accordance with the requirement, then they should not receive a conviction: either for failing to give information, or for the original offence. That’s what the law says, and the only way to prove this is by having a trial. That is not the defendant’s fault.

Should NIPs be sent by tracked mail?

Rather than blaming the drivers for daring to say they haven’t received the notice, why doesn’t the Central Ticket Office make use of the ‘signed for’ mail facility? That’s what most of us do when we want to make sure something’s received. It may cost another quid to send, but if they used this method it would usually be clear whether the item was signed for, the addressee had gone away, it was not called for etc.  Who knows out of all of those drivers who genuinely believe they did not receive a notice whether it was simply lost in a pile of junk mail and was indeed received but went unnoticed. Having to sign for the NIP would draw the importance of it to their attention, therefore hopefully more people would respond. It would also reduce the number of people proceeding to trial.

Some areas in the country still insist upon wasting money sending reminder notices if they don’t have a response to the NIP. But these are pointless. The law is only concerned with the service of the original notice, and if it wasn’t received within the time frame, a reminder notice will not remedy that.

I suggest the Central Ticket Offices just do what everyone else does and use tracked mail. Yes it costs more, but if the courts really are inundated with people seeking to argue they didn’t receive the NIP it makes sense to do this. When you take into account the number of people involved in a typical court hearing: three magistrates, a legal adviser, prosecutor, defence solicitor, an usher, not to mention the defendant; surely the saving to the public purse by not having a court hearing would more than make up for the initial outlay on sending the NIP?

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