Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Parking tribunal Chief tells councils to show common sense

Perhaps the motoring public would have more faith in the system if decisions by the TPT were consistent ... and applied the law in relation to signing. We have seen many instances where they chant the mantra 'no reasonable person could have been misled' which is at odds with regard to the fact that signing must comply with the law. PATAS on the other hand is far more consistent in its approach. However, new developments on a number of fronts will shake this 'industry' from top to bottom ... and the recent arrest and pending trial of a council officer for misconduct in public office will cause a great deal of consternation as whistleblowers queue up to ensure that they are not tarred with the same brush.

10 Oct 2010
Caroline Sheppard, chief adjudicator of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal, accused some local authorities of operating a "zero tolerance" approach to minor infringements.

She suggested that motorists who are given parking tickets for petty breaches of the rules should be let off if they appeal against the penalties. Mrs Sheppard complained that motorists were being punished for such offences as leaving one wheel over the white line of a car park bay, or failing to display their pay-and-display ticket correctly.

In such cases, drivers whose penalties were upheld on appeal to town halls have subsequently had them overturned by the tribunal.
Last year the tribunal received more than 12,000 applications to overturn tickets. In more than 60 per cent of cases it ruled in favour of the motorist.

The intervention by the chief adjudicator comes after The Sunday Telegraph's Campaign for Fair Parking highlighted cases where councils have carried on issuing tickets in areas where they knew the signs were illegal. Mrs Sheppard accused councils of failing to exercise their discretion when penalties were challenged, and called for "an outbreak of common sense" over trivial cases.
She urged motorists to appeal against penalties if they think they have been dealt with unfairly or illegally.
She said: "Motorists must appeal if they have any doubts over penalty charges. People want to explain but we only see what comes before us, so let us look at it."

The chief adjudicator said she was concerned that too many councils were failing in their statutory duty to give proper consideration to representations made by motorists contesting penalties, or to evidence offered in mitigation.

She said that motorists' letters of explanation to town halls were often dismissed with a standard response letter of one or two lines – a practice which suggests that their arguments "had not been considered properly or fairly".
Many councils were "unwilling or unable to consider challenges based on mitigating circumstances", Mrs Sheppard said.

Mitigation pleas are common in cases where a ticket had been issued because of a failure to display a permit, disabled parking badge or pay-and-display ticket.
Many councils had taken the "extraordinary" view that it was somehow "fairer" to reject all representations, she said.

Adjudicators had seen this explained in letters of rejection in which council officials said it would be "unfair" on people who had paid a penalty charge if those who made representations were "let off".

Mrs Sheppard, a barrister, also criticised the rising number of appeals that councils failed to contest at the tribunal, saying: "I don't understand why local authorities reject drivers' representations and then go no further."

The tribunal, which covers all of England and Wales except Greater London, considers cases where motorists have received a parking ticket then appealed to the town hall, which has upheld the decision.

It received 12,423 submissions last year, an increase of 11 per cent on the previous year's figure.Of cases decided by the tribunal, 34 per cent were won by the motorist because the council did not contest the case and a further 28 per cent were decided in favour of the motorist after the adjudicator considered and rejected the council's arguments, meaning that 62 per cent of all appeals were successful.

In nine out of the past 10 years, the proportion of successful appeals has been over 60 per cent.
Last year in 28 areas more than half of all appeals went uncontested by the local authorities concerned.

Areas with the highest proportion of tickets overturned at the tribunal in 2008/9, the most recent figures available, included the Medway towns in Kent, where 360 motorists appealed to the tribunal and 91% were successful, and Slough, where 246 appealed and 84% were successful.
The chief adjudicator declined to comment on councils which instructed enforcement officers to issue tickets despite having being warned that their regulations or signposts were legally flawed.
But she said it was "regrettable" that the tribunal was still being asked to determine appeals against penalties issued on streets where road signs were misleading and confusing.

In some cases, the tribunal has told councils to ensure that their parking officials receive guidance from their legal teams.

Parking tickets can only be issued when a motorist has broken a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), or bylaw, that has been made correctly by the local authority.
Mrs Sheppard said that adjudicators were "bewildered" by some TROs, and called for greater clarity so that parking signs were clear and unambiguous.
The most common appeals were over pay and display tickets, "signs and lines", vehicle ownership, loading and unloading, penalty charge notices not issued or not on the vehicle, residents and visitors permits, and disabled bays and badges.

Most (57 per cent) of appeals are dealt with by post, 35 per cent by personal hearing and 8 per cent by the recently introduced telephone conference, the latter up from 12 in 2008 to 167 last year.

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