The SJP system is under scrutiny thanks to an Evening Standard investigation into how elderly and vulnerable people are convicted using the controversial courts mechanism for minor mistakes.
The pensioner faced a charge of being the uninsured keeper of a vehicle in May, and a fixed penalty notice sent to his home was not paid.
“I apologise, I am now 89 and accidentally put the letter in a drawer without reading it properly,” he wrote to the court while pleading guilty. “The car failed the MOT and didn’t leave the drive until it was disposed of in June this year. Should I pay the original fine?”
A magistrate convicted the man and imposed a £62 fine plus a £25 victim surcharge, but spared him paying any costs from the case.
Analysis of court data shows cases at Barkingside magistrates’ court in north-east London — including claims of truancy — were dealt with in less than a minute during a SJP session in June, raising concerns that the full circumstances of an allegation had not been considered.
Magistrates can refer cases into open court if there are concerns, but it is usually the prosecutor’s decision whether to withdraw a case no longer considered in the public interest.
The single justice procedure is used for minor crimes like train fare evasion and speeding, but it has also been used to punish Covid rule-breaking.
Homeowners accused of not paying their TV licence are also prosecuted through the SJP system, with court papers showing they are not given an option of to pay a fine to avoid a criminal case.
In court papers seen by the Standard, a 71-year-old Newcastle woman was prosecuted last week for not getting a TV licence after just two weeks in her new home.
The retiree admitted to an official that she had recently watched Coronation Street, and said she had not got around to sorting out the licence.
In the court process, she wrote: “I have recently been struggling financially and as a result am receiving advice from citizen’s advice. I also have health issues, like my hearing.”
A magistrate convicted her of the offence, and imposed an £80 fine, with £120 costs and a £32 victim surcharge. The money is expected to be deducted from her benefits payments.