The Law - in Reality

CarIn this section we aim to show you how the system really works in practice, and what you can do to defend yourself and obtain a just result - starting from the moment you're stopped.

We explain the regional differences between Constabularies' procedures and your basic rights. This section will also help you to understand why there's so much confusion surrounding speeding offences.

An invaluable tool in constructing your defence is, believe it or not, the traffic video frequently recorded by the police patrol car! The reason police forces started using these was that they can provide clear unambiguous evidence of offences, and so reduce disputes over police evidence in court. Of course, they can also work the other way around and be of enormous value to the defendant if the police evidence isn't accurate! We show you how to get a copy of your video.

Before you start, if you haven't done so already you might like to familiarise yourself with a few basic facts and terms in our glossary.

Regional Differences

We've prepared a comparison table that records how different constabularies in the UK can handle speeding offences. There's a huge difference between police procedures and the law, and there's no "national standard" because it's up to individual Constabularies to use whatever procedures they choose.

We're only recording procedures relating to the use of patrol cars, fixed and mobile cameras, and in particular situations where a citizen is actually stopped at the time.

To illustrate this point we've listed the "Best Practice" and "Legal Minimum" that could be used in your case - and we think that the "Legal Minimum" will surprise you!

Under the law the legal minimum that you have to receive before a summons is a Verbal Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP). The words aren't clear, and may confuse you; they'll be something like:

"You will be reported for consideration of the question of prosecuting you for this offence."

Although there appears to be need for "consideration" and a "question" to answer you may never hear anything else from the Constabulary before you get a court summons.

If you've anything to say for yourself make sure that you say it after the verbal NIP. The traffic officer has a duty to record your response to the verbal NIP. Following the High Court ruling in the Yorke and Mawdesley case (31st July 2003), you may have a right to refer to PACE after you receive the verbal NIP.

  • If you have a passenger ask them if they'll join you in the patrol car so that they can act as your witness - don’t forget to ask them to take notes. The police officers can't stop them doing this, but they probably won’t like it!
  • Ensure that your explanation for your actions has been recorded. Don't just say you are "late for a meeting"!
  • Keep calm, be polite and take your time to think about what you're saying.
  • Never produce your driving licence at the road side. You only have to provide the officer with your name, address and occupation.
  • If you are "cautioned" by the Traffic Officer this link explains what you can do to "buy yourself some time". The High Court ruling in the Yorke and Mawdesley case (31st July 2003), means that you may have a right to refer to PACE, even if you are not cautioned by the officer.
  • If you don't have a paper and pen ask to borrow one from the officer.
  • Don't forget that police officers are public servants and they have a basic duty to assist the public. Don't feel intimidated by them.
  • Ensure that you record the name and numbers of the officers concerned and the name of the inspector that they report to.
  • Get the officers to explain why they picked on you. Under the provisions of the Human Rights Act they'll need a coherent explanation - "because you have got a red car" isn't good enough any more!
  • Ask to see the evidence and get them to explain how the equipment works and show you the markers that they used on or near the carriageway. Don't forget the patrol car's equipment will have been manually operated and there's room for human error.
  • Explain that you'll need a copy of your traffic video for independent verification - although you shouldn't expect them to like that!
  • Ask what speed you're to be prosecuted for - if it isn't obvious.
  • If it's an unmarked car ask how fast they were going and whether that's allowed without warning lights - get them to explain their procedures to you. As we've already said there's a great deal of difference between the law and police procedure, and you need to understand that. For example, some Constabularies instruct their officers to perform a one mile "follow check" - under the law that isn't strictly necessary.
  • The law doesn't mention traffic videos either, but according to Chief Inspector Peter Fouweather, who's in charge of Gwent Constabulary's Traffic Department, their traffic procedures state that if the ProVida video recording equipment is installed in the patrol car and the Traffic Officer is qualified to use the equipment then it must be recording whenever the vehicle is being driven. Please note that this was the position on the 6th August 2001.

What you can say and do if you're cautioned....

Use the following words immediately after the caution or verbal NIP - (please note that you should say them precisely, so print them out and keep them in your car):

The Caution

  • "You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something you later rely on in court, Anything you do say may be given in evidence", or:

The verbal NIP

  • "You will be reported for consideration of the question of prosecuting you for this offence."

Your Response

  • “I do not recognise the significance of those words and I would like to exercise my legal right to refer to PACE – The Police and Criminal Evidence Act.”

This will cause two things to happen: -

  1. They'll have to hand you a copy of PACE, which is a very thick and complex document. Then you can sit in the back of the patrol car and read it for as long as you like, and they can’t continue until you've finished.
  2. They'll probably treat you with a great deal more respect.

Not many patrol cars actually carry a copy of PACE so the first thing they'll probably have to do is radio to the station and ask someone to bring them a copy!

If a verbal warning is given at the time, it must be shown that the defendant understood it (Gibson v Dalton [1980]). Proof that they understood the charge will lie with the prosecution.

Differences table

  Legal Minimum Best Practice
Speeding Ticket issued No  Yes 
Driver Cautioned No  Yes 
Written NIP issued within 14 days No  Yes 
Verbal NIP Yes  Yes 
Officer records what is said No  Yes 
ACPO Guidelines will have been adhered to No  Yes 
Speed Measurement Equipment will have been used No  Yes 
Officer decides a single speed for prosecution No  Yes 
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