Criminal Defence Articles

A guide to postal requisitions (Postal Charges) in England and Wales

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Let’s face it, being summonsed to court is a daunting experience. If you are unlucky enough to receive a Postal Requisition (Postal Charge), it is important to understand the process so that you can ensure that your rights are upheld. This article explains what a Postal Requisition is and what you need to do if you receive one. We also look at how the CPS decide whether to charge a suspect with an offence. Finally, we delve into when time limits apply to the charging decision, and what being ‘released under investigation’ by the police means in practice.

What is a Postal Requisition (Postal Charge)?

A Postal Requisition, also known as a Postal Charge is a summons calling you to appear at the Magistrates’ Court because you have been charged within a criminal offence. Postal Requisitions can be sent by the police, or by other agencies such as Transport for London for fare evasion or the BBC for not having a television licence.

You may have been unaware prior to receiving the Postal Charge that you have been accused of an offence. This is because where an arrest is not deemed necessary, you can be charged with an offence via post and asked to attend court to answer to the charge, without first being taken in to the police station for questioning. It is also common to receive a Postal Requisition if you have been arrested and interviewed by the police, but then ‘released under investigation.’ Another circumstance where you may receive a Postal Requisition is if you attended a voluntary interview at the police station.

The requisition/charge will be sent to your last known address. It will notify you of the offence that you have been accused of and ask you to attend court at a certain date and time. It will not provide information in respect of the evidence that the prosecution intends to bring against you. However, it may be accompanied by other documents that outline the offence and the evidence against you, such as witness evidence or a statement of facts. A Postal Requisition will be sent by the police in the case of summary offences, and by the CPS in the case of either way or indictable only offences. Where it is the CPS who has made the charging decision, the Postal Requisition may be sent out a long time after you were interviewed by the police.

Regardless of whether you intend to plead guilty or not guilty, if you receive a Postal Requisition do not ignore it. If you fail to attend court at the date and time recorded on the Postal Requisition, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If you are arrested after a warrant is issued you may be released on bail, or you may be remanded in custody until you are produced before the Magistrates’ Court.

To avoid this, it is advisable to instruct a firm of solicitors whom you trust to represent you at the hearing. Your solicitor can help you prepare for the hearing by taking your account of what happened, advising you of your options in respect of whether to plead guilty or not guilty, and liaising with the CPS in respect of your case. For example, where the evidence in the case is very weak, your solicitor may be able to highlight this in order to persuade the CPS that they should not proceed with the prosecution.

What is the difference between a summons and a Postal Requisition?

A Postal Requisition / Postal Charge is the same as what was previously known as a court summons. In policing jargon, it is also known as an MG4D or MG4E. The introduction of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 has led to a vast increase in the number of suspects being ‘released under investigation’ rather than being released on bail. This is because the Act imposes time limits on how long suspects can be released on pre-charge bail for prior to a charging decision being made. This change has led to a large increase in the number of suspects being charged via Postal Requisition.

Being charged via a Postal Requisition can be alarming for defendants, especially where a good deal of time has passed between being interviewed and receiving the requisition in the post. In 2018, 9% of defendants who were charged via postal requisition did not attend court. This may be due to a change of address, not opening the letter, or opening the letter and not understanding the importance of attending court.

How do the CPS decide whether to charge you for an offence?

When deciding whether to charge you for an offence, the CPS are obliged to follow the Code for Crown Prosecutors. This sets out two tests that the prosecutor must apply. Usually the Full Code Test is used, but in serious cases where key evidence is still awaited, the Threshold Test can be applied instead.

Full Code Test

The Full Code Test asks two questions:

  1. Is there sufficient evidence to charge the suspect?

Firstly, the prosecutor must assess that the prosecution’s case has a more than 50% chance of success. This is worded as follows:

‘A reasonable jury or bench of magistrates or judge hearing the case alone, properly directed and acting in accordance with the law, is more likely than not to convict the defendant of the charge alleged.’

  1. Would charging the suspect would be within the public interest?

The prosecutor must determine whether the public interest would be better served if:

  • The prosecution took place; or
  • if the prosecution did not take place.

When making this assessment, the prosecutor must consider whether the matter could be adequately dealt with via an out of court disposal such as a caution or a fine, which would be much less costly for the justice system, as well as avoiding the inconvenience of calling witnesses, etc. Factors that are relevant to the public interest assessment include:

  • The seriousness of the crime committed
  • The level of culpability of the suspect
  • The circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim
  • The suspect’s age and maturity at the time of the offence
  • The proportionality of a prosecution i.e. all things considered, is it worthwhile for the prosecution to take place?
  • Would a prosecution reveal intelligence sources that need to be protected?

This is not an exhaustive list of factors, and certain factors may be given greater weight than others depending on the nature of the case.

Threshold Test

The Threshold Test can be applied where there is not sufficient evidence to apply the Full Code test. To satisfy the Threshold Test, the charging decision must be in relation to a serious crime, where the gravity of the crime or the circumstances justify the making of an immediate charging decision. The prosecutor must be satisfied that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the suspect committed the offence, and that further evidence can be obtained to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. It must be a case where there are substantial grounds to object to bail, and where in all circumstances it would be proper to refuse bail. Finally, the prosecutor must determine that it is in the public interest to charge the suspect.

What is the time limit for the CPS to make a charging decision?

There is no general time limit for the CPS to make a charging decision. In complex cases, a decision may be made weeks or even months after the case is referred to the CPS by the police. However, for summary only offences (less serious offences that are usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court), court proceedings must be started within six months of the date of the offence.

How long can you be ‘released under investigation’ for?

There is currently no time limit on how long you can be ‘released under investigation’ by the police before they decide whether to charge you, or take no further action. It is for this reason that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in suspects ‘released under investigation’ rather than being released on bail where there is a time limit of 28 days before a charging decision must be made.

In cases where a defendant has been released under investigation, when a charging decision is made, they may receive a postal requisition mandating them to attend court to answer the charges against them. Alternatively, the police/CPS may decide to take no further action.

Where to get further information

If you have received a Postal Requisition, do not ignore it! Ignoring a postal requisition may result in failure to appear at court and a warrant being put out for your arrest. Instead, take action today and instruct a criminal defence solicitor to advise and represent you. Stuart Miller Solicitors offer a free no obligation consultation – contact us today to arrange one. We will explain the procedure that will take place at court, and help ensure that your voice is heard in the justice system.

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