Millions of motorists across the UK have at some point in their driving history received a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) which is the most common proceedings that result in penalty points.
Penalty points for many people can be a huge inconvenience and there are times that it may seem like an easy option for someone else to take the points to avoid any consequences so this article will look at some of the scenarios that may prompt this course of action and consider whether it is worth the risk.
To fully consider the issue it is important to understand the process that penalty points can be endorsed and this usually commences with the issuing of an NIP
What is a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP)?
Prosecutions for many offences that attract penalty points typically start with the NIP process unless certain exceptions apply. Section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 stated that a person shall not be convicted (of certain offences) unless:
“Within 14 days of the commission of the offence a notice of the intended prosecution specifying the nature of the alleged offence and the time and place where it is alleged to have been committed, was-
…served on him or on the person, if any, registered as the keeper of the vehicle at the time of the commission of the offence”
This section essentially makes it a legal requirement for the perpetrator of an offence to be notified of a potential prosecution.
What Does a Notice of Intended Prosecution Require?
In an age where a huge proportion of offences are captured by cameras as opposed to human police officers, the need to identify the offender to prosecute is crucial. When a camera captures an offence, (speeding for example) the image is sent to the central ticket office who will issue an NIP to the registered keeper of that vehicle. The legal obligations of the registered keeper are enshrined in section 172(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which states:
“Where the driver of a vehicle is alleged to be guilty of an offence…..
…the person keeping that vehicle shall give such information as to the identity of the driver as he may be required to give.”
The onus is on the registered keeper to confirm who was driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence. It is crucial that the NIP provides as much information about the incident to assist the keeper with identification and it should state the date, location and time of the incident, the vehicle registration, its recorded speed and the device/method used to capture the speed.
What happens if a Notice of Intended Prosecution is Ignored or Completed Incorrectly?
As a result of the legislation above, it is important that the notice is completed correctly and the relevant information provided. Failing to do this amounts to an offence under section 172(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of “failing to furnish information” or “failing to confirm the identity of the driver” as it is sometimes phrased.
This law is formed on the basis that the registered keeper has legal responsibility over a vehicle that has been used to commit a criminal offence. The onus is therefore on the registered keeper to confirm the identity of this offender to facilitate effective prosecution. The offence of failing to furnish information carries a minimum penalty of 6 points endorsed on their driving licence in addition to a fine of up to £1,000.00. This penalty was intended to deter those who may prefer prosecution for failing to furnish information as opposed to a more serious offence alleged on the notice in the hope of securing a lesser penalty. For example, if the offence alleged was driving without insurance (which carries between 6 – 8 points) but the penalty for failing to furnish was set at 3 points, there is incentive for the driver (if the same as the registered keeper) to ignore the notice entirely which circumvents and undermines the criminal justice process.
The NIP has taken various formats over the years but is most commonly divided into sections and it is important that it is completed correctly. Half-completing it or not providing the specific information required can result in charges of failing to furnish information being brought against the keeper regardless of their good intentions.
If the registered keeper does not know who was driving, they are expected to provide any information that can assist in identifying the driver and information (at least their name and address) needs to be provided.
If there are a number of potential drivers (as is often the case with a shared family car), each of the potential drivers needs to be listed. This would still trigger the offence of failing to furnish information however the registered keeper may have a defence if they can demonstrate to the court that they could not with due diligence identify the driver at the time.
It is also important to note that the NIP must be completed by the registered keeper and nobody else. Many assume that it is sufficient to hand the NIP to the person who was driving for them to complete however this is not the case as it can often create confusion and the keeper will still likely be summoned for failing to satisfy the legal obligation placed on them. The law requires that they give the information, not somebody else.
Penalty Points & Disqualifications
There are a range of offences that carry penalty points such as speeding, driving with no insurance, careless driving, being drunk in charge of a vehicle and mobile phone offences to name but a few. Penalty points do not usually create difficulties for the motorist but are intended to serve as a daily reminder to the offender that they committed an offence. It is when the points start to tally up that motorists begin to worry as they numerous points can:
- Increase insurance premiums;
- Restrict employment opportunities; or
- Result in a 6 month disqualification as a totter.
“Totting” is the term used for when the number of penalty points on a driving licence amounts to 12 or more and in this instance, section 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 becomes relevant as it deals with disqualifications for repeat offenders.
This relevant sections state as follows:
….where a person is convicted of an offence and the penalty points to be taken into account on that occasion number 12 or more
…the court must order him to be disqualified for not less than the minimum ….
…the minimum period referred to above is
– 6 months if no previous disqualification imposed is to be taken into account and
– One year if one, and two years if more than one, such disqualification is to be taken into account
…the previous disqualification imposed on an offender is to be taken into account if it was for a period of 56 days or more and was imposed within three years immediately preceding the commission of the latest offence
In summary, the sections say that if a motorist accrues 12 points within the space of 3 years they will be disqualified for 6 months. If the offender has been disqualified previously however and the ban was for 56 days or more than the length of the ban can be increased to 1 year or 2 years depending on the number of previous disqualifications.
Another point of note is those considered a “new driver” under the New Drivers Act. The Act explains that a motorist is considered to be on a probationary period for the first two years after passing their test. If the motorist accrues 6 points or more during that time then the licence will be revoked by the DVLA meaning that they have to re-take their driving test.
Given the risk of a disqualification/revocation and the impact this would have on many people who rely on their car for work, it is easy to understand the temptation to name someone else (who may have a clean licence) as the driver to avoid the potential consequences.
Perverting the Course of Justice
The very name of this offence gives an indication of its severity but so few people seem to realise that taking penalty points for someone else, or even trying to do it amounts to perverting the course of justice.
Perverting the course of justice is an indictable only offence which means it is serious enough that it can only be dealt with in the Crown Court where they have greater powers of sentencing than the magistrates’ court. It is defined in common law as opposed to statute and a person perverts the course of justice by putting false information on the NIP as they have:
- Conducted an act
- Which has a tendency to pervert; or
- Is intended to pervert
- The Course of public justice.
The offence carries a maximum of life imprisonment when at its most serious but that would likely not apply to this situation. One of the more memorable cases saw former Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne and his wife both sentenced to 8 months in prison after the former convinced the latter to take penalty points from his speeding offence. More recently, a Labour MP is currently facing trial for perverting the course of justice.
The courts have a job to uphold the reputation and credibility of our justice system and they do not take cases of perversion lightly.
Some motorists may start to pervert the course of justice but then get cold feet and confess to the police that the information was false. In these cases the police would more likely bring a charge of wasting police time which is not as severe as perversion. This charge is summary only meaning it stays within jurisdiction of the magistrates’ court where the maximum potential sentence is 6 months in prison.
Regardless of how penalty points may affect your licence, occupation or family life, is it really worth risking your liberty?