Signing the NIP
Should I sign the NIP?
Over the last few months we have received many enquiries about the rights and wrongs of signing the Notice of Intended Prosecution information form, which is sent to many potential road traffic offenders.
The speculation started with a case in February 2003 when Flintshire Court Clerk Paul Conlon realised that the NIP response form completed by alleged speeder Phillip Dennis, was unsigned. He therefore advised his bench of magistrates that they could not convict Mr Dennis, as the form was inadmissible in evidence. Mr Dennis had broken no law by failing to sign the form, because although it is an offence not to give the driver's details, it is no offence not to sign the form.
As more and more people have heard of this loophole, it seems the police prosecuting authorities have been racking their brains to try and get round it. They tend to return the NIP response form and "demand" a signature, or else issue a fixed penalty in the hope that drivers will simply pay. It seems more are refusing either option, and opting to take the matter to court.
The judgment in the important case of Yorke and Mawdesley has finally been delivered in the High Court (31 July 2003) and our view is that the potential "get out" has been closed, or rather almost closed.
There was a distinction in the Yorke and Mawdesley cases in that Dwight Yorke had not completed his form himself, but it had been done by his agent. Mr Mawdesley had completed his return form himself. Mr Justice Owen agreed that the return forms of both men could not be admitted in evidence as a "form purported to be signed by the defendant" under section 12 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, but he decided that an unsigned NIP return form could be admitted as a confession under s82 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), provided it had been completed by the person named on the form. This was not the case in Yorke's case and his conviction was therefore set aside. Unfortunately for Mr Mawdesley he had completed his form and therefore his conviction was set aside, but his case was remitted back to the magistrates to reconsider in the light of the decision of the High Court, where he is likely to once again be convicted, but on a different basis in law.
So where does this leave the law? Our view is that it is still perfectly lawful not to sign the NIP return form, but that if you complete it yourself that it is admissible in evidence against you. If someone else completes the form for you the police can argue that it should be admitted as a confession under s82 of PACE, and you would then have to bring evidence to the court to prove that you had not actually completed it. If accepted by the court then it should not be acceptable as a confession.
However in the case of Idris Francis (heard in March 2004) the court have said that failing to sign the NIP does mean you are guilty of an offence under section 172 of the Road Traffic Act (ie failing to supply information about the identity of the driver), but they are yet to explain their reasoning. Mr Francis was challenging his conviction for failing to identify the driver of the vehicle in that he failed to sign a notice served on him for speeding.
His barrister argued his conviction should be quashed on a point of law - that there was no legal obligation for him to sign the form. The judges rejected his appeal, saying they will give their reasons later.
Mr Francis, a retired company director, was caught speeding on 11 March, 2003, on the A325 in Hampshire, by a speed camera. When the case came to court, magistrates could not convict him of speeding, as he had not signed the form identifying himself as the driver - rendering it inadmissible in court. Instead the vintage car owner, of West Meon, near Winchester, was fined £60 with £364 costs and given three penalty points on his licence for failing to identify the driver.
During the hearing, Christopher Parker, counsel for the chief constable, told the judges: "This case hinges on the question of whether it is reasonable for a chief constable to require a form to be signed when requiring information about a driver. He does need to know the identity of the person returning the form whether it is the driver or any other person. In addition the chief constable can quite properly require that the form should be signed, knowing that if it is signed by the driver it can subsequently be used in evidence."
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