Road Safety News

Traffic courts will deal with ‘minor offences’

Friday 17th May 2013

Dedicated traffic courts are to be set up in England and Wales to prosecute minor motoring offences following a pilot scheme in nine areas (BBC News).

The move is part of a drive to cut delays in the criminal justice system and free up magistrates' courts to deal with more serious cases, according to BBC News.

Each year, 500,000 minor motoring offences go through the courts. Ministers say such cases ‘clog up’ the courts, which should be dealing with more serious offences.

Dedicated traffic courts have been piloted in Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Metropolitan Police, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and West Yorkshire, and police have said they had successfully “simplified" the legal process.

The plan is to open a traffic court in every police area by April 2014, and to use specialist prosecutors to deal with up to a 160 cases a day.

Cases they could hear include speeding, traffic light offences and those relating to insurance and driving licences.

The new courts will only have jurisdiction in the 90% of cases where motorists admit their guilt; if they contest the offence, it will be dealt with by magistrate courts as at present.

Damian Green, justice minister, said enforcing traffic laws was hugely important for road safety but the time it was taking to hear cases - especially those when drivers had accepted their guilt - was "simply unacceptable".

He said: “The justice system must respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of victims, witnesses and local communities, and these dedicated courts will enable magistrates to better organise their work and drive greater efficiency.”

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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Dave, could you define how breaking the law is 'safe and responsible?'
Andy, Warwick

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

We must not forget that people should only be prosecuted when “in the public interest” and only be found guilty when “beyond reasonable doubt”. Magistrates courts long ago abandoned both those principals, therefore these new courts may further erode public trust in the system.

I suppose this boils down to what we think of our fellow citizens. If we believe they are generally reckless, careless and dangerous, then prosecuting them in their millions may well be a good idea. If so, these special courts may simply be the best solution to the problem of how to prosecute massive numbers of other people.

If, on the other hand, we value true justice and we generally trust our fellow citizens, perhaps we should wonder why the authorities need to prosecute so many people for behaviour that is safe and responsible?
Dave, Slough

Agree (5) | Disagree (13)

The article says that these specialist courts are being set up to hear uncontested cases, i.e. in which the accused has already pleaded guilty but, for whatever reason, cannot be dealt with through a fixed penalty notice. This implies “medium” level cases (e.g. speeding above the thresholds that allow alternative disposal such as a Speed Awareness Course), more than one offence or a repeat offence.

If a case is contested and the accused pleads not guilty, their case will still be heard in the magistrate’s court with all the rights that entails.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Stating traffic courts set up to prosecute minor motoring offences so as to free up magistrates’ courts to deal with more serious cases – trivialises the seriousness of criminal motoring offences, which is the UK’s leading cause of death to those under 40 years old.

If Black Boxes were fitted in all vehicles then the excuse of lapse of concentration would no longer apply. And before I hear a cry for civil rights, it cannot be used as an excuse, as mobile phone records are/may be used.

Speeding, mobile phone use, traffic light/pedestrian crossing violation, ignoring road junctions, to name a few, are all criminal offences which endanger other road users and should not be referred to as minor offences.

Agree (7) | Disagree (7)

A defendant to any of the motoring offences listed could be driving ‘perfectly safely’ (which is subjective anyway) but the offences are still offences per se. Insured ..yes or no? On the ‘phone ..yes or no? Speeding ..yes or no? A court will not be swayed by “..but I was driving safely!”
Although not a news item about speeding, it has nevertheless been highlighted and in my experience, speeders do so over a distance, not for a split second and they are not ‘momentary lapses’ - that’s usually an excuse from an offender who wants sympathy. Forget the 85th%ile in this context - it isn’t relevant and is largely misunderstood anyway.

Driving safely requires, amongst other things, self-discipline and speeding is down to lack of self-discipline and in that respect, is no different to not wearing seatbelt, using the ‘phone etc. and shouldn’t be treated any less seriously.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (19) | Disagree (4)

If someone is driving whilst uninsured, or without a license, or on the ‘phone, or speeding, or not wearing their seatbelt, then that is stretching the interpretation of a ‘lapse’ somewhat".
I agree, with the exception of speeding. Drivers caught at 35mph in a 30mph zone, when 34mph would be treated as unpunishable, and where the 85%ile will, by definition, be higher than those speeds, is being hit for a momentary lapse of concentration while being perfectly safe. That does nothing positive for road safety, but rakes in easy cash.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (7) | Disagree (27)

A momentary lapse of concentration is a phrase often used in connection with motoring offences but the thing is, as Tim says, that is the whole point - we don’t want momentary lapses of concentration by people in charge of a motor vehicle - any more than we would want a surgeon to have a momentary lapse of concentration when performing an operation. And is it a momentary lapse anyway? For someone to have a ‘momentary lapse’ and at that precise moment be spotted by the Police suggests a few monetary lapses – not one. If someone is driving whilst uninsured, or without a license, or on the ‘phone, or speeding, or not wearing their seatbelt, then that is stretching the interpretation of a ‘lapse’ somewhat.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (26) | Disagree (3)

Eric is right that in principle a motorist could end up in front of one of these courts following a single lapse of concentration, and in the same way they could end up hitting a tree and breaking their neck. This notwithstanding, it is clear that the people most likely to arrive in these courts are those who routinely and frequently have lapses, or those who willfully disregard the rules they all agree to in accepting their licence to drive on our roads. If it brings financial efficiency to the process that is to be applauded, not vilified. If you want to know whether this arrangement generates a surplus when all costs are taken into account, and if so what happens to that surplus, a FOI request to the Treasury should do the trick.
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (26) | Disagree (4)

Despite Damian Green's statement, this has little to do with road safety and everything to do with increasing cash flow and punishing safe motorists for a temporary lapse of concentration.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (7) | Disagree (34)