Insurance charge brought too late

Six-month limit applies for summary-only offences

Attorney James Stenning successfully argued last week that the Crown had delayed too long in bringing a charge against his client.

After hearing specifics, Magistrate Grace Donalds agreed and said proceedings would be stayed, meaning the charge cannot be pursued.

Mr. Stenning appeared on behalf of Office Worx Ltd and Marcus Ebanks, both charged with the same offence – failure to effect and continue a standard health insurance contract for one employee between 2 March, 2011, and 19 January, 2012.

The issue was, when was there enough evidence to charge? Mr. Stenning submitted. He argued that the starting point date was 5 July, 2012, but the charge was not brought until 7 January, 2013.

Crown Counsel Michael Snape said the complaint was made on 25 January, 2012, and the information was verified in March 2012. A memo was sent to the office of the director of public prosecutions. By 5 July, prosecutors had made inquiries and received a response, but it was by e-mail.

The magistrate asked what happened between July and October, when a provisional ruling was made. “Is that how long it takes to get a ruling?” she asked.

Mr. Snape said that in the context of this case it was prudent to wait until the formal evidence had been provided, but Mr. Stenning was submitting that e-mail confirmation was enough.

Mr. Stenning replied, “There was enough evidence to justify proceedings in July [2012], to my mind…. The clock started ticking and the dilatory approach taken by the DPP resulted in missing their time limit.”

He said the delays in putting together formal evidence were no doubt contemplated in section 78 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which reads in part: “Except where a longer time is specially allowed by law, no offence, which is triable summarily, shall be triable by a Summary Court unless the charge or complaint relating to it is laid within six months from the date on which evidence sufficient to justify proceedings came to the actual or constructive knowledge of a competent complainant.”

The magistrate ruled that there was sufficient evidence to justify proceeding in July and accordingly the proceedings were stayed.