§ Mr. Bob Russell
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the legislation governing how long after a road accident a private prosecution can be made; and if he will make a statement on the present limitation.
§ Mr. Charles Clarke
There are no statutory limitations on the period within which proceedings may be instituted for indictable offences (including those triable either way); but under section 127 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, proceedings for summary offences must be commenced within six months of the day when the offence was committed, except where there is specific statutory provision for a different time limit to apply to a particular offence. The summary offences in the Road Traffic Act 1988 which are most commonly charged following a road accident, such as careless driving or driving with excess alcohol (sections 3 and 5 respectively), are covered by the general limit in section 127. The position is the same whether the prosecutor is the Crown Prosecution Service (or other public authority) or a private individual.
The purpose of these time limits is to ensure that summary offences are charged and tried as soon as reasonably possible after their alleged commission, so that the recollection of witnesses is still reasonably clear, and so that there is no unnecessary delay in the disposal by magistrates' courts of the summary offences brought before them.