Transport for London found Guilty of “Procedural Impropriety”
The case of Transport for London (TfL) vs. Commercial Plant Services Ltd & Others 2023 (“Commercial Plant”) recently hit the headlines in the national papers as the London Tribunal ruled that TfL “broke the law” when it used CCTV systems rather than Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) to drivers.
Laws limiting the use of CCTV to issue fines were introduced back in 2015 when Government ministers in the Department for Transport called the practice an “overzealous enforcement by local authorities”. Now with the case of TfL vs. Commercial Plant, motorists issued with PCNs using CCTV rather than a CEO may be able to appeal any parking fines issued in this manner and get the fine rescinded if successful.
What Were TfL Doing?
In London and further afield there are ‘red routes’ which are routes where red non-stopping lines are used to prevent vehicles from parking in certain areas where to do so would cause congestion. If a vehicle has parked on a red route then the owner could be liable to receive a PCN.
PCNs issued for flouting this rule should be issued by CEOs at the time of the offence and this can, on occasion, offer the driver an opportunity to explain why they are stopped there. PCNs issued later using CCTV footage as evidence deny the “accused” the ability to obtain necessary evidence to be able to prove that what they were doing was allowable, such as loading/unloading. This is especially important in the case of commercial vehicles that my have stopped for a legitimate purpose.
TfL had been issuing parking tickets to individuals by post relying upon the use of CCTV systems to identify the vehicles rather than through CEOs, in contravention of Regulations 9 – 11 of the Civil Enforcement of Road Traffic Contraventions (Approved Devices, Charging Guidelines and General Provisions) (England) Regulations 2022 (“the 2022 Regulations”).
The Landmark Case
The Commercial Plant case emerged from numerous appeals made in relation to outstanding parking fines issued for unlawful parking along these ‘red routes’. The company’s main appeal point was that issuing fines by post using CCTV footage should be considered a ‘procedural impropriety’ and should be made illegal.
The case put forward by Commercial Plant & Others (the appellants) set out to define the statutory principals and the correct interpretation of these Regulations 9 – 11 of the 2022 Regulations and argued that appropriate signage was mandatory. TfL’s representatives argued that the 2022 Regulations allowed the issuing of PCNs using CCTV on red routes rather than requiring CEOs. Their key point was that because a red route could be any road that had single or double red lines and no signage stating the hourly restrictions, reliance on CCTV was permitted.
The Tribunal concluded that the correct interpretation of Regulations 9 – 11 of the 2022 Regulation was the one presented by the appellants stating; “it would be counterproductive to have a law in place that would not allow motorists the ability to provide evidence to disprove the offence”. Using CCTV in this way would mean that motorists with genuine reasons to park on a ‘red route’ would not have the same opportunity to provide evidence as they would if a CEO had personally addressed them at the time of the “offence”.
An example was given of a person loading or unloading goods for a commercial store; the CCTV would capture footage of the vehicle parked. A CEO on the other hand would be able to ask the driver why they are parked and verify with the commercial store that goods were being delivered/loaded and therefore avoid the issuing of a PCN.
It remains the case that the act itself of parking on a red route, unless for an allowable reason such as loading/unloading where there is no alternative place to do so, is still not allowed and would result in a PCN, but if that PCN is issued by post using CCTV footage, the driver will be able to appeal it and may not have to pay a penalty.
A TfL spokesperson speaking after the ruling is on record as saying “we are committed to keeping London moving safely and efficiently and compliance on the Transport for London road network is essential to achieving these aims. Enforcement by our compliance officers using CCTV cameras is an important part of tackling this and we are exploring next steps…“.
The issue for commercial vehicle operators is that challenging a succession of PCNs can quickly become non-commercial: It is sometimes cheaper just to pay rather than challenge every PCN. This case may help reduce the number of PCNs that are issued by TfL and if that is the result of this case, then there is much to be welcomed.