Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The end of parking fines may be in sight

The end of parking fines could be in sight after the outcome of two legal challenges are known.

The cases, one brought by a Bosham man and the other by a man in Worcester, are using ancient laws to challenge the legality of parking fines and local authorities’ ability to impose them.

Those behind the cases believe if they succeed the revenue from car parking fines in Britain - estimated to be worth £1bn - will be dramatically reduced.

Lt Col Tex Pemberton, the West Sussex County Council transport chief, has called the challenges ‘potential showstoppers’.

The basis of the challenges is that in law, councils operating decriminalised parking schemes do not have the power to issue ‘fines’ - only courts have the power to do so.

If successful, it could have major implications in this area because West Sussex County Council is due to begin decriminalised car parking on January 23.

Former Chichester parliamentary candidate, Douglas Denny, of Sunnyway, Bosham, who is challenging his case over a parking ticket he received in Portsmouth, said: “The law has been ignored for years and (the authorities) have got away with it. Now it is being tested.”

Mr Denny’s case has progressed only as far as Portsmouth City Council’s head lawyer, who has said he regards it as being ‘interesting’.

But in Worcester last Friday Robin De Crittenden, of Willenhall, near Wolverhampton, took Worcester City Council to a tribunal hearing.

He and Mr Denny are both arguing their cases using the 1689 Bill of Rights which says parking ‘fines’ can only be imposed by a court of law.

Part of the Bill they refer to says: “All grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.”

Mr De Crittenden said at the tribunal that Britain was drifting towards a police state and said: “The public are faced with a vast money-making machine that is a disgrace to each of the local authorities.”

A decision from the tribunal is not expected for weeks as the National Parking Adjudication Service reserved judgement and said it will announce its decision by the end of November. (note - decision made known this weekend - appeal allowed - by default as Worcester City Council failed to appear to put their case )

Mr Denny began his case, which is identical in most ways to Mr De Crittenden’s after receiving a parking ticket in Auckland Road East, Southsea, on October 29.

He paid the £30 fine to the council but appealed at the same time that was unlawful.

Portsmouth City Council’s Head of Common Law, Gordon Barratt, said in a letter to Mr Denny: “I must say the issues you have raised certainly do appear interesting from a lawyer’s perspective.

“If Portsmouth City Council was ordered by the courts or legislative amendment to reimburse any parking charges levied then, subject to appeal, it would of course comply with such a requirement.”

Nothing is likely to happen in Mr Denny’s case until the tribunal in Worcester is resolved.

Mr Denny said: “The levying of fines without recourse to a court of law is illegal under the Bill of Rights Act.

“There is no question about it - it is illegal.

“To put it simply, the law has been ignored for years and they have got away with it. Now it is being tested.

“What is interesting is how the authorities are going to get out of it - as try they will – because there are millions of pounds of revenue at stake per annum.

“They are already trying to make out that the fines are not really fines after all but are parking charges.

“The trouble for them is they have tacitly been called fines from day one and are still called fines at all levels of local authority government.

“If it looks like a fine, acts like a fine and smells like a fine - it must be a fine.”

County council cabinet member for transport Lt Col Pemberton said: “This is a potential showstopper.

“We hope it is not a showstopper but we will have to wait and see what happens in Worcester before we react. It may well be that we have to change all the wording to ‘charges’ instead of fines.

“But as far as I’m concerned I am telling all my people to carry on work as normal because we have to put a stop to illegal parking in West Sussex.”

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