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The background on this is that I sold my first motor vehicle to a scrap yard to be disassembled for parts and/or sold. Unfortunately for whatever reason the V5 form (official document providing proof of registration of a motor vehicle) must have not found its way to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and as such I have remained the registered keeper of the car even though the vehicle is no longer in my possession.

Approximately four months ago I received a letter from the DVLA informing me that said car I had sold was uninsured, and I must pay a £100 fine. Unfortunately I did not take the initial letter seriously and put it to the back of my mind. I then received a second letter pushing the urgency of the matter and threatening with court. At this point I rang the DVLA where a helpful woman told me the only way I can get around this was to write a letter to the DVLA explaining the situation. She also outlined a list of points to include. I promptly wrote said letter and had it sent by Royal Mail as second class postage.

This week I have received a third and final letter summoning me to my local magistrate's court. I have already sought out the scrap company and they have written an email confirming the car was purchased by them 3 months before the DVLA have the vehicle as being registered uninsured. I will also be writing to them again whilst sending in my "not guilty" plea. I have already suggested I will pay the fine in return for them updating their records but I have been told this is no longer an option.

I have a couple of questions regarding this whole ordeal:

  1. Will an email document be evidence enough? Should I go to the scrapyard in person and ask for a signed hand-written document basically outlining exactly what was said in the email or will this be a pointless endeavor?

  2. Exactly how should I conduct myself in the magistrates court? I have no idea how the proceedings go, even basic things such as how do I address the judge and basic guidance on how to conduct myself in the court room?

Any guidance will be appreciated, I may seek out a solicitor but as a young adult who has just moved into my first home the purse strings are tight at the minute and I am unsure if this step is even entirely necessary.

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    Most proceedings in Magistrates' Courts are public, so you can just turn up and ask to sit in the public gallery to familiarise yourself with the procedures. – Flup Sep 30 '15 at 20:53
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  1. Dress respectably.
  2. Don't forget any documents (either those that support your explanation, or that you might have been instructed to bring). Printed Emails are fine unless you have been instructed otherwise.
  3. Arrive at the court on time and prepared to follow instructions and be respectful.

Beyond that nobody expects that someone entering a magisterial court for the first time will be familiar with customs or process. If you're sitting in the wrong place, not standing at the right time, or touching something you're not supposed to, then a court officer will tell you; just follow directions and it's no problem. Address officers as "sir" or "ma'am" unless they ask you to call them something else. If you have a question ask any officer.

If you are unsure of what is going on – what you are being charged with, what is at stake, what the purpose of the hearing is – then call the court ahead of time and ask.

It sounds like this is an administrative issue and the only thing at stake is a few hundred pounds in fines. If that is in fact the case then hiring a solicitor would be silly.

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  • The letters warn that fines+court fees could be in excess of £1150. – Trotski94 Oct 1 '15 at 7:57
  • @JamesTrotter Only a solicitor could address your prospects in your particular case. You might be able to assess on your own if this is just administrative -- e.g., it simply got filed in court before you got it straightened out with the DVLA, but ultimately you have the evidence necessary to absolve yourself of liability. If you can't tell or risk it, I don't know what solicitors run in your area, but consulting one might be prudent. – feetwet Oct 3 '15 at 22:40
  • The fine is not the only thing at stake. It's also the criminal record. Depending on your career path and the nature of the offence that can end up being a serious problem (e.g. if you will be regulated by the SRA, FCA, etc.). In some scenarios and some professions these can stay with you for life, even after the offence is spent for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. – JBentley Nov 5 at 15:07
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  1. Responsibility for sending off the V5 when selling or scrapping your car is yours. From your question it's not 100% clear what the fine is for so this case may be different, but I have personally twice had fines for not sending off my V5 when selling/scrapping my car. These fines were not for being uninsured but for failing to notify the DVLA of the sale. In these cases, proof that I had sold or scrapped the car was of no use: it is your responsibility to send the V5, not the person who buys the car. (Relevant regulations can be seen here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/2742/regulation/22/made)

  2. I have been to magistrate's court for a similar situation and from memory (it was a long time ago!) I spoke only to confirm my name and plea, so I would not worry too much about addressing the judge etc. I dressed in a full suit, tie etc. and was surprised that 90% of the people going through court that day (my case was delayed so I sat and watched a lot of people going in and out of court) were wearing everyday casual clothes (jeans & t-shirt etc.).

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    Quite a few people being prosecuted in magistrates courts probably don't own a business suit and don't have much money to buy one. There's also a proportion that are arrested and taken to court by the police, so they would probably only have whatever clothes they happened to be wearing at the time of arrest. – bdsl Oct 28 '15 at 0:36
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EDIT: I've just noticed the date of this post. I will leave my answer up in case it assists anyone in similar circumstances in future.

Just to add to the above answers, if the offence is for being uninsured (and not instead some other offense relating to your failure to notify the DVLA of the tranfer) and you have evidence that you no longer had possession or use of the car, then you should try to contact the prosecuting solicitor and convince them to drop the case, despite the DVLA saying this is not an option. That is simply untrue.

The burden of proof in criminal cases, as you probably know, is "beyond reasonable doubt". The CPS' Code for Crown Prosecutors has a test for deciding whether or not to prosecute. It is a two stage test. Briefly, they (1) must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and (2) they must consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.

Where the evidence is clearly not sufficient (which is arguably the case here) they should drop the case so as not to waste time, money, and resources (theirs, the courts, and yours). You should point out the evidence you have, the lack of evidence on their part, and that you will ask for your costs to be awarded if they proceed to court and you win. Be firm and pushy, but be polite. Do not get into an aggressive argument. Just stick to the facts: you did not own the car, your evidence is strong while theirs is weak and/or non-existant, and therefore the evidential stage of the test is not satisfied and they should drop the case. If they try to claim that they have sufficient evidence, tell them you want a copy of all of their evidence in writing.

Again, remember, they need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that at the time of the alleged offence: (1) it was being used in circumstances which required it to be insured, (2) that you were the person responsible for insuring it, and (3) that it did not have insurance. If they lack any of these things, point out that they haven't proven their case, while you on the other hand, can easily prove that you no longer had the car.

Try to do this by telephone first. Remember, contact the prosecuting solicitor/barrister, not the DVLA, who are likely to just stick to the script. If you are not successful (either because they can't be reached, or they aren't convinced), send them something in writing. If they still don't drop the case, make another attempt on the day of the hearing. Arrive to the court 1-2 hours early, and locate the prosecutor. You will often find them in an office somewhere in the court labelled Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), but you may also have to find them outside or inside the court room. Bear in mind that some agencies bring cases themselves rather than the CPS (I'm not sure if this applies to the DVLA). You can ask the court staff for assistance with finding the right person. Once found, present the same arguments as above and try to convince them to drop the case.

I once attended court for a friend's parent and got the case dropped literally right as it was about to start, simply by speaking to CPS and pointing out some paperwork discrepencies. Often the case is weak and they are simply expecting that nobody will turn up to defend the case (especially for minor offences / fines), and they will fold easily when they realise they have to fight a losing case.

If none of that succeeds and you do defend yourself and win, ask for your costs. You will probably only get basic costs such as travel, since you are unrepresented.

Finally, every magistrates court should have a duty solicitor. They aren't a substitute for full legal representation but will provide basic advice for free. They are understaffed and popular, so you should arrive to court early (or go a different day before the hearing) to have the best chance of seeing them.

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