Clamping down on tickets

The past twenty years have belonged to the aggressive traffic warden but motorists are starting to fight back, says Robert Verkaik
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The last time I remonstrated with a wheelclamper for clamping my legally parked car (he had failed to take notice of a valid parking ticket on my dashboard) I was told to quieten down or face a citizen's arrest.

The last time I remonstrated with a wheelclamper for clamping my legally parked car (he had failed to take notice of a valid parking ticket on my dashboard) I was told to quieten down or face a citizen's arrest.

How the world has changed. While we stood there bawling at each other I couldn't help thinking that the demise of the "lovely Rita Meter maids" was a very sad day in the history of British parking. The last 20 years has witnessed the rise of the abusive clamper and the officious traffic warden, jobs that are remarkably popular with former police officers and soldiers returning to civvy street.

In turn hard-up councils have begun to see the motorist as a cash cow and have farmed out their ticket enforcement operations to unregulated private security firms. The public often complains that attendants seem to be paid by the number of tickets they issue and regularly use subtefuge and entrapment to lure drivers into committing parking violations.

Last month a report into Lambeth council's parking ticket operation found that each attendant has to issue 12 fines per shift under a contract signed by the council and its private contractor. Under the arrangement 200,000 parking fines have to be handed out each year - well above the number previously issued.

The report also criticised the attendants for being "rude" and "overzealous". With such forces of officiousness ranged against us what chance has the embattled motorist who wants to challenge a parking ticket? Ten years ago the best advice would have been to pay up and treat the whole incident as a rather unpleasant but necessary learning experience. Today, however, the motorist is being encouraged to fight back. Websites and road user groups now offer a range of advisory services for anyone who believes they have been a victim of a miscarriage of parking ticket justice.

John Squires, who runs www.parkingticket.co.uk, says that each week hundreds of motorists seek advice from his website on how to challenge tickets. But he says: "Parking enforcement is an expensive operation and councils are required to, at least, cover their costs. Their income is derived from paid-for-parking and fines. It is no surprise that, as judge and jury when considering motorists' representations, they will be unwilling to concede points and will put pressure on motorists to pay up."

Obstructive council culture has led to some local authorities suggesting that motorists should be billed for defending their appeal - in effect a doubling of the fine.

Mr Squires adds: "For those that challenge incorrectly or unfairly issued tickets the standard [for] handling representations by some councils often leaves a lot to be desired."

In his book the Motorists Guide to Parking Tickets, Mr Squires offers some candid advice to anyone thinking about overturning a parking ticket. He begins by urging motorists to adopt a calm and measured response when faced with a over eager parking attendant. "If you do return to your car just as the ticket is being placed under your wiper blade don't hurl abuse at the enforcement officer. This is counter productive as a ticket cannot be cancelled once it has been issued or is in the process of being issued."

For the majority of motorists who never see the person responsible for issuing the ticket, but believe they have parked legally, Mr Squires suggests that they spend valuable time at the scene collecting evidence. The next step is to make your case. Motorists who receive tickets from a police officer or traffic warden must write to the issuing constabulary or ticket office. Under the decriminalised enforcement used by the councils there are two stages to challenging a ticket. Firstly, says, Mr Squires a representation is made to the council. If this is rejected the motorist can appeal to the independent adjudicator.

But most important, if you want to challenge the ticket you must not pay it first. "Receipt of your payment automatically closes the case," says Mr Squires. Most appeals are not doomed to failure. In 2002 the Traffic and Parking Appeals Service, the organisation which deals with objections to tickets issued in the capital, received 42,966 appeals. Of these 24,646 appeals found in favour of the motorist, a success rate of more than 57 per cent. Outside London the success rate is even higher.

Perhaps the most famous successful challenge in recent years was that of barrister Jeremy Rosenblatt. Mr Rosenblatt, an experienced London advocate, used Article Six of the European Convention on Human Rights to challenge the behaviour of a local authority, which had led to his car being clamped after it had been subject to two fixed penalty notices in one afternoon. Mr Rosenblatt paid the initial £80 fine and the £125 clamp removal fee, but was eventually excused the other £80 fine. He argued that doubling the fine for someone who has not paid on time (he was not aware of the first fine) amounted to a breach of the right to a fair trial.

And in the most significant court judgement to date on wheel clamping the Court of Appeal ruled in 2000 that clamping can amount to trespass to property. The source of Britain's parking enforcement ills can be traced back to the Road Traffic Act 1991. This decriminalised parking offences and allowed councils to carry out their own parking enforcement. Shortly afterwards councils took over parking ticket responsibility from traffic wardens. The number of tickets issued by the London councils in the first full year of operation was almost twice as many issued by police traffic wardens during the last year they carried out enforcement.

But prevention is always better than cure. As Mr Squires says: "The only way you can guarantee not to get a parking ticket is to never have a motor vehicle."

APPEALING TIPS

1. If you think you might have a case act immediately otherwise your appeal might run out of time.

2. Collect as much supporting evidence from the scene of the alleged parking violation. For example if you have complained direclty to the car clamper or parking ticket officer ask for their name and get him or her to agree any points of fact.

3. Don't be put off if your appeal is rejected out of hand. Some councils automatically dismiss some claims in the first instance

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