Sunday, November 13, 2005

Transport Committee 'adjusts' official document...Telegraph reports

Parking penalties may prove 'illegal and void'
Christopher Booker
Sunday Telegraph
13th November 2005
Read the article here

A Commons select committee stands accused of making a tiny but telling change to its website, to get it off a legal hook which could cost local authorities billions of pounds. As announced last summer, the Commons Transport Committee is due to investigate the parking regimes handed over by the police to councils under the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which now account for a third of all the parking tickets issued each year to motorists.

In a statement on August 9, the Committee described these as "fines". Last week, the statement, still dated August 9, changed this to "charges". The significance of this may lie in evidence submitted to the MPs by Neil Herron, the campaigner who argues that most of these council schemes are illegal, because they rely on automatic fines without giving motorists the right to go to court. This is in breach of the 1689 Bill of Rights, which rules that penalties can only be imposed after conviction by a court.

What might seem only a historical curiosity has been made startlingly relevant, however, by the judgment given in 2002 by Lord Justice Laws in the case of the Metric Martyrs. The judge upheld their criminal convictions by ruling that "constitutional statutes" such as the Bill of Rights and the European Communities Act (under which the traders were found guilty) cannot be overruled by later legislation unless Parliament expressly wills it.

If Laws was right, the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which permits parking fines without reference to a court, is illegal. All the money paid by motorists since "decriminalised parking" came in should be paid back.

Faced with this challenge, the councils have come up with a specious defence. Parkwise, the body set up by 13 councils in Lancashire to run their parking schemes, concedes that the Bill of Rights only allows fines after "judgment of a court", but claims that its penalties are not "fines" but "charges" (although council websites still call them "fines"). This ignores the Bill of Rights itself, which rules that "all fines and forfeitures before conviction are illegal and void".

Seeing this express train roaring down on them, the Commons Transport Committee last Tuesday sneaked in that change from "fines" to "charges".

The official explanation is that this is "more accurate", because it includes parking charges of all kinds. But if those MPs examine the Bill of Rights, they will see this change still does not let them off the hook. By any reading of the law, those billions of pounds raised by councils in automatic penalties must be regarded as "illegal and void".


wonkotsane said...

Whether they call it a fine or chareg nothing changes. If it's a charge then they are still demanding you forfeit your money.

W.C.Christopher said...

This is incredible! Thank heavens someone has taken the trouble to read the laws that govern. I often wondered myself how a fine (er, charge?) could be levied without a court appearance or conviction, but like so many of us, I thought it had already been approved as 'legal'. Not so. Don't let them off the hook, Neil.

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