Time limits

1. In summary-only cases, an Information must normally be laid (ie delivered to the court1) within 6 months2 of the offence3. The day on which the offence was alleged to have been committed is excluded for the purposes of calculating the time limit4; for a summary-only offence allegedly committed on 10th January, therefore, the latest date by which the Information should be laid is 10th July.

2. In certain situations (for example, where there has been difficulty in locating a defendant), a new summons may be required from the court. Some courts might try to insist that you provide them with a second Information. You should not do so, as this is liable to be considered as a new Information5 which might, for example, be out of time. It is also unnecessary, as the court is able to issue two or more summonses based upon the original Information6

3. There is no time limit for commencing proceedings for an indictable offence (including an either way offence). However, in all cases, this should be done as soon as possible, as the courts have discretion to dismiss a summons 7 on the grounds of abuse of process where there has been unjustified delay8. Normally, it would also be necessary for the court to be satisfied that the defence has been so prejudiced by the delay that a fair trial cannot take place. Cases where a court would "stay proceedings" in the absence of any fault on the part of the prosecutor will be rare9.

4. For further guidance on drafting the Information, see Preparing the case.


5. An Information is laid by sending it to the Justices' Clerk at the appropriate magistrates' court. The Justices' Clerk (or a justice of the peace) then issues a summons. This repeats the offence alleged in the Information, and summons the defendant to appear in court on a given date at a given time.

6. You should keep a record of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of magistrates' courts in your area.

7. Some courts will accept an Information by post and will type and serve the summons themselves. However, most expect you to provide sufficient copies of both the Information and summons (see paragraph 8 below). If in doubt, you should check with the court office. Once the court has issued the summons, the court will return it for you to serve on the defendant yourself (see The summons).

8. Before sending the Information (and in most cases the summons) you need to check whether one or more of the offences are recordable as this will dictate whether an Arrest Summons Number (ASN) will be required by the Court. Full Guidance on this is contained within OC 168/15.

9. Once you have, either obtained an ASN, or confirmed that one is not required you should telephone the court office to arrange a first hearing date. The time allowed by courts for this hearing will vary. You should inform the court if the defendant has indicated that a guilty plea will be entered; the court may allocate sufficient time to allow both the 'plea before venue' procedure and, depending on the outcome of that procedure, the sentencing hearing to take place. However, practice between courts will vary, and you should discuss this when telephoning. Any agreement as to time allocation should also be mentioned in the subsequent letter to the court. You may also use this opportunity to check the court's practice in respect of the summons (see above).

10. You should inform the court if the case is one which should be heard before an authorised District Judge - see Court Stage - magistrates - plea before venue and allocation.

What to send or take to court

11. Subject to the requirements of the court, it is normal practice for two copies of the Information and, unless the court prepares these, three copies of the summons to be provided to the court.

12. Unless the court serves the summons, the original and copy summons will be returned to you to serve, having been signed by a justice of the peace or the Justices' Clerk, and showing the date of the first hearing (known as the "return date").


  1. R v Manchester Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Hill [1983] 1 AC 328; [1982] 2 All ER 963: a written information is laid when it is received at the office of the clerk to the justices. Back to reference of footnote 1
  2. However, where the offence is committed under one of the relevant statutory provisions and the accused is subject to the provision as "the designer, manufacturer, importer or supplier", the prosecutor may commence proceedings at any time within six months from the date on which sufficient knowledge to justify a prosecution comes to the prosecutor's knowledge - Section 34 HSWA 1974. Back to reference of footnote 2
  3. MCA 1980, s.127(1). R v Kennett Justices, ex parte Humphreys and Wyatt [1993] Crim LR 78: an Information may be properly laid within the time limit, notwithstanding it is not in the prescribed form. Back to reference of footnote 3
  4. Marren v Dawson Bentley & Co Ltd [1961] 2 All ER 270. Back to reference of footnote 4
  5. Network Sites Limited v London Borough of Havering (1997) 161 JP 513. Back to reference of footnote 5
  6. Ex parte Fielding (1861) 25 JP 759; R v Clerkenwell Magistrates' Court, ex parte Ewing and Clark (1987) The Times, 3 June. Back to reference of footnote 6
  7. Magistrates' courts also have jurisdiction to refuse to accept an Information on grounds of delay, but it is preferable that they issue the summons and then deal with any defence application in relation to delay in open court: R v Clerk to the Medway Justices, ex parte DHSS [1986] Crim LR 686. Back to reference of footnote 7
  8. For another helpful case, see OC 183/4, R v Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court, ex parte HSE. Applications to dismiss because of delay are dealt with in more detail in the section on Abuse of process. Back to reference of footnote 8
  9. R -v- Gateshead Justices exp. Smith (1985) 149 JP 681; R v Bow St Stipendiary Magistrates ex parte DPP (1989) 154 JP 237, [1990] Crim L R 319. Back to reference of footnote 9

Is this page useful?

Updated 2022-03-31