Christopher Booker's Notebook
13th February 2005
Pensioner challenges the power to penalise without trial
Two years ago, when Robert de Crittenden, a pensioner, emerged from Sandwell council offices in the west Midlands, he was irritated to find a £30 fixed penalty ticket on his windscreen. He little realised he was embarking on a battle which calls into question the legality of the entire principle of automatic penalties, which now earn local authorities and government departments hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
As a student of constitutional law, Mr de Crittenden was aware that under the 1689 Bill of Rights, it is fundamental to British law that no one may be fined or financially penalised unless they have been convicted by a court. When he inquired into the power of traffic authorities to levy automatic fines, he found it had been created by the Road Traffic Act 1991, in contradiction of the Bill of Rights.
But Mr de Crittenden was also aware of the historic judgment in the "Metric Martyrs" case in 2002, in which Lord Justice Laws pronounced that there were certain "constitutional statutes", such as the Bill of Rights, which cannot be set aside by subsequent legislation unless this is specifically stated. This was crucial to the argument whereby Laws upheld the conviction of the Metric Martyrs.
The law making it a criminal offence to sell goods in pounds and ounces was issued under the European Communities Act 1972. But the Martyrs' defence was that this had been overridden by the Weights and Measures Act 1985, which authorised continued selling in non-metric measures. By ancient tradition, when one Act says something different from another, the later Act, by the principle of "implied repeal", takes precedence. But Laws ruled that, since the European Communities Act was a "constitutional statute", it could not be overridden by the 1985 Act, since this had not made the point explicit.
After conferring with the British Weights and Measures Association (BWMA) and Neil Herron of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund, Mr de Crittenden concluded that, if Lord Justice Laws was right, the 1991 Road Traffic Act could not implicitly repeal the relevant clause of the Bill of Rights, because, as Laws stated, this was a "constitutional statute". Either the automatic penalty system was illegal; or Laws was wrong, in which case the Metric Martyrs should not have been found guilty.
Using this argument, Mr de Crittenden refused to pay his fine unless Sandwell took him to court. Two years later they have still not done so. But the significance of his challenge can scarcely be overestimated. Since his legal argument began to be widely circulated, ever more motorists have similarly refused to pay fixed penalties in towns all around the country – for example in Sunderland, where Mr de Crittenden was last week given another parking ticket, when he drove up to confer with Mr Herron in connection with this story.
The dilemma facing councils is stark. If they obey the law as it stands, they cannot impose parking tickets on hundreds of thousands of motorists without taking them to court. But if they do so, the court system would rapidly collapse. Furthermore the same applies to all the other official bodies that have jumped on the "fixed penalty" bandwagon, such as the Inland Revenue, which imposes an automatic £100 penalty for a late tax return.
If all these bodies imagine that, under the Laws judgment, they have a simple remedy – namely to rush through an Act of Parliament explicitly overruling the Bill of Rights – Mr de Crittenden has another trick up his sleeve. The Bill of Rights may have been enshrined in an Act of Parliament, but the Declaration of Rights on which it was based was a contract between the sovereign and the people. It is by that Declaration that the monarch occupies her throne and by which Parliament enjoys its power, and it cannot be repealed. Thus, if Laws is right, fixed penalties without conviction cannot be legalised. Either that, or the Metric Martyrs were innocent.
Anyone wishing to know more can contact the BWMA (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/exit.jhtml?exit=http://www.bwmaonline.com/) or the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund at PO Box 526, Sunderland SR1 3YS.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
- ► 2011 (51)
- ► 2010 (174)
- ► 2009 (115)
- ► 2008 (179)
- ► 2007 (210)
- ► 2006 (392)
- Will this be the downfall of the assemblies?
- Leader of North East Assembly's Criminal Convictio...
- Local Government Act 1972 - Section 143
- Local Government Act 1972 - Sections 137
- Local Government Act 1972-Sections 94, 95, 96
- Prevention of Terrorism Bill exposes Metric Martyr...
- How we voted no and meant yes
- Will the Terrorism Bill 'free' the Metric Martyrs?...
- Another blunder by the Electoral Commission
- It was you who wrote Magna Carta, my Lords. And no...
- Dividing and ruling
- Inland Revenue Lawyers in Disarray
- Bill of Rights 1689 explained
- Metric Martyr's Stitch up explained
- New funding for assembly?
- An apology from BBC's Jeremy Vine
- Trouble at Mill...Wakefield Council acting illegal...
- REGIONAL ASSEMBLY
- Find your MEP
- Investigation: This man wants to hit BT with a bas...
- Pro Forma Letter to MEP's
- The Pensioners’ rallying cry should be: No link, n...
- Raising concerns over plans for homes
- BBC's Jeremy Vine Show drops Parking Ticket story
- Scathing report urges public inquiry to measure in...
- STAFF LEVELS AT ASSEMBLY REVEALED
- Legal twist exposes 'miscarriage of justice' for t...
- 'Talking shop' funds are cut
- Regions miss out on EU concessions
- REGIONAL ASSEMBLY
- Regional Assemblies
- Ringing endorsement for assembly by Government
- Devolution 'could spark EU power struggle'
- Bringing order to the regions, Paperclip policy ta...
- LEADER ANGERED BY POWER OF ASSEMBLY
- 400,000 homes in North face demolition
- Council set to pull plug on assembly
- FPB: Scrap ‘abject’ regional assemblies and save £...
- 'In a Nutshell'...the Government's Dilemma £1billi...
- NORTH-EAST ASSEMBLY
- Prescott focuses on local level in U-turn
- People of the region were frightened by scare stor...
- Tory wants Assembly out
- Parking Tickets...Administrative Bodies out of Con...
- Now it's starting to happen
- ▼ February (45)