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A cousin just asked my thoughts on a letter he received about an alleged speeding offence.

The letter was the standard UK one that is sent out after a speed camera detection, and is fairly simple, so his actual query wasn't a problem.

However he asked me the deadline and I had to say that couldn't work it out. The letter states in bold that "YOU HAVE 28 DAYS FROM THE DATE OF SERVICE OF THIS NOTICE" to take various actions. However it nowhere states what the "date of service" actually is.

I know that the

  • date printed on a letter,
  • date of actual handing of the letter to a postal service,
  • date of actual service of the letter,
  • date of effective service, and
  • date of deemed service,

are all different dates.

But this letter didn't say which was meant by "date of service" nor how tell when that date was.

In effect my cousin was sent a letter which stated a response was legally required by some date that it neither provided, nor provided the information to calculate.

Of course a prudent respondent would reply within 28 days of the date on the letter, but legally the deadline would seem to be some unspecified number of days (or working days) beyond that, and the legal deadline is not provided.

For example there is no stamp or indication when it was handed to a postal service. So we don't know the start date of the notice period, only that it was at minimum on, or some number of days after, the date that the letter was printed.

Even if we did know the start date of the notice period, the end date still seems indeterminate/unspecified/ambiguous, since we don't know if the letter is telling us to use actual/effective/deemed service workings from that date, nor how to calculate it.

  • Which method of calculating date is actually correct? What method is used in practice to determine if a response was within time?

  • Bonus points, in UK law, would a notice that says "you must reply by the end of some period of time, that isn't actually specified or legally clear,or is indeterminate", be enforceable as a stipulated time limit? Or would it be deemed defective?

1 Answer 1

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The fixed penalty notice is a notice under s172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

(7) A requirement under subsection (2) may be made by written notice served in accordance with Criminal Procedure Rules, if the alleged offence took place in England and Wales, or by post otherwise;

Let's assume . For service by post the relevant rule is 4.11.

(2) Unless something different is shown, a document served on a person by any other method is served—

(b) in the case of a document sent by first class post or by the equivalent of first class post, on the second business day after the day on which it was posted or despatched;

The date it was posted or dispatched will be indicated by the postmark on the envelope, "‘business day’ means any day except Saturday, Sunday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday or a bank holiday" (2.2), and second means not the next one but the one after that.

For or you would need to determine their laws for service by post. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Your cousin was provided with all the information needed to determine the date of service because they are legally required to know the law. I can't believe neither of you had this right at your fingertips 😂.

Note the "unless something different is shown". If your cousin was in the Antarctic for the summer and didn't collect their mail until they returned, that would be "something different" and service would be when they collected the mail.

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    So if you were on a two week holiday, you have the choice: Reply within 28 days from two business days after it was posted (which might be 14 days after you arrived back home), or reply within 28 days of returning from holiday, and be prepared to have to prove that you didn't receive the letter earlier.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 8:50
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    According to the question, there is no postmark on the envelope. (And this causes me to wonder: a letter posted in a collection box on a given day might not be collected and postmarked on that day but on the next business day or possibly even later; which day counts?)
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 10:34
  • A helpful good answer, and 2 good comments. Its disturbing nonetheless that there is no info in the letter that says when date of service is, or provides an easy way to find it. Even just a reference to the statute would help. Although a person is presumed to know the law, omitting the deadline and mentally thinking "well the way to work out the time limit is buried in some statute somewhere, so legally they know it" seems a bit unreasonable in its demand on most people. I accept however thats a point outside the scope of Law SE.
    – Stilez
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 13:51
  • I agree with most of this answer, but proving you didn't collect the mail because you were away isn't going to work. What generally matters is whether the letter was delivered, not whether you subsequently read it. An argument that nothing was delivered because the postal service was on strike might work. Or, an argument, relying on Section 7 of the Interpretation Act 1978, that the letter was not properly addressed.
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 13:04

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