James Daley: It pays to appeal against unfair fines

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The Independent Online

I've developed something of an appetite for the courtroom in recent months – lining up dates in the small claims court, the parking appeals tribunal and the magistrates' court all within a few weeks of each other. I should say that in the case of the latter two, my dates are merely appeals against parking and traffic fines that I have received. But while there was a day when I might have simply paid up – saving myself the time and trouble of an appeal – a recession helps to remind you how precious every pound is.

And so far, I have no regrets. In fact, each of the processes have been very instructive.

The first case relates to a parking fine I received in July. I won't bore you with the details, but in short, I'd been misled by my local authority about which permit I needed to park outside my flat. Given that I'd tried to do everything I could to get the right permit, there was no way I was going to pay the £50 ticket that I received for having the wrong one.

The parking appeals process is, alas, terribly unfair. Although you are allowed to make an initial appeal without penalty, you're then told that you'll have to pay double the fine if you take your appeal further and you're unsuccessful. In my local borough, there are at least two more appeal stages to go through before you receive a "final notice", and it is only at this stage that you have the option to take the appeal on to an independent tribunal. In my case, it had been four months since the original ticket had been issued by the time I reached this stage.

The tribunal, however, is much more efficient – and a date for my hearing arrived within a few days. By this stage, I was quite excited about the prospect of a showdown with some parking official in front of an independent judge. Unfortunately, however, a few days later, I received a letter from my local authority saying that they wouldn't be attending my hearing. Therefore, I won by default. In total, it took five months to resolve the dispute. But it was worth it just to discover that the council doesn't bother to defend itself once you take the matter all the way to a independent tribunal.

My small claims court experience has been equally instructive. These days, you can do it all online – at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk – and the process is simple.

I'm owed some money for a freelance article I wrote over a year ago, and after multiple emails and phone calls failed to prompt a payment, I decided to issue an official claim. This got their attention, and although proceedings have not been seen through to their conclusion yet, I'm hopeful of getting some or all of my money eventually.

The third of my forthcoming court dates is an appeal against a fine for cycling on the pavement. I've found some interesting legal guidance which would suggest that these fines weren't designed to be used on someone who is driven up on to the pavement by bad drivers (as I was). I'm hoping that my experience here is as successful as it has been in my other crusades.

Traffic fines and parking penalties are all too often issued incorrectly. My advice is to appeal them every time.

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