Car Wars: London to simplify parking penalty appeals

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The Independent Online
NEW WAYS of appealing against parking penalties will be introduced in London over the next two years as control of cars on side streets shifts from police to local authorities, writes Oliver Gillie.

The new scheme, which in effect decriminalises most parking offences, will probably be extended to other cities. The police will retain control of parking on major routes and will still be able to dispense penalties, clamp or tow away when they consider that cars are causing an obstruction.

The new regulations, which are being brought in under the Road Traffic Act 1991, will put all parking meters under the control of local authorities. A code of practice and an appeal procedure will be administered by the newly formed Parking Committee for London.

The director of the committee, Nick Lester, said: 'The code of practice is most important - it will deal with such matters as: when do you clamp and when do you tow? The committee will also set the penalties so they are uniform for the whole of London and will operate the adjudication system for aggrieved motorists.'

At present people who believe they have been wrongly charged can take their case to a magistrates' court, but only two people in a thousand bother to do so.

Mr Lester believes that under the new adjudication system, which is modelled on schemes used in some cities in the United States, 50 people in a thousand (5 per cent) will appeal.

However, the number of penalties issued is expected to increase. At present, some 2 million parking tickets are issued each year in London by 1,800 wardens. The Parking Committee expects that the London boroughs will increase the number of wardens to at least 4,000 and that they will issue some 4 to 5 million tickets per year.

The new adjudication procedure is intended to be much easier for the motorist. 'Magistrates' courts are not designed to suit the needs of the motoring public - they are far too intimidatory,' Mr Lester said.

'Under the new scheme, aggrieved people will be able to write to the borough, which will have six weeks to respond. If the borough does not respond in that time then the complainant will be deemed to be right, and if the person has been clamped or towed away their money will be refunded. They will also be able to re-claim certain damages, for example if they have missed a flight.

'If the borough does not agree to the complaint it may be taken to an independent adjudicator appointed by the Parking Committee. I foresee that this will simply involve the complainant putting their case to the adjudicator, who will decide on the spot whether the person was ticketed correctly or not.

'If the ticket is decided to be incorrect then it will be cancelled there and then. The idea is to have a simple, accessible, independent, user-friendly system. This type of system works well in many US cities where people just walk in and get a hearing within about 20 minutes.'

In dubious cases, the adjudicator would have discretion to make a decision favouring the motorist. But waiving of the rules on compassionate grounds would be done by the boroughs.

The adjudicator would work to agreed guidelines in making decisions. 'We will establish precedents in areas where there is not always general agreement at present,' Mr Lester said.

'For example, it is my understanding that the yellow line must actually be present on the ground for someone to be penalised . . . It is not sufficient for it to be deemed to be there because it can be seen to be interrupted by roadworks or something of the kind.'