Wheelclampers are acting illegally by imposing exorbitant charges for the release of cars parked on private land, the RAC said today.
The concept of one citizen "punishing" another is alien in English law, according to barrister and engineer Dr Chris Elliott, whose review of private-property parking regulations was published today by the RAC.
He added that clamping vehicles on private land could also breach human rights and was "perverse".
The Government is currently consulting on how wheelclamping in England and Wales could be better regulated.
Dr Elliott said: "The Home Office is proposing a new licensing regime for private clampers, but it is arguable that, if the release fee is unreasonable, their actions are incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998 which demands that punishment should only come after a proper legal process."
He went on: "The purpose of clamping is to prevent a vehicle being removed from land it should not be on. On the face of it, clamping is perverse since it causes the harm to the landowner to persist. It is in effect a 'self-inflicted wound."'
"The tactic only makes sense either to punish or deter. Both have little foundation in English law, since they are based on a notion that one person may punish another. But punishment is a power reserved to the state."
Dr Elliott continued: "The courts found that, provided there are clear warning signs that the driver saw and appreciated, the driver 'consented' to be clamped. This is the legal basis of many contact sports like rugby and boxing, where the players consent to actions that would otherwise be assault.
"It's hard to see this idea being extended to parking. But even if it is, just as a rugby player might expect to get hurt but not beaten up, a motorist might accept a reasonable fee but not an extortionate one."
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister is now urging the Government to carry out a fundamental review of the law.
He said: "We recognise the right of a landowner to enjoy his property without unauthorised obstruction. However, for so many reasons clamping does not fit the bill as a method of enforcement."
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