Author Topic: Driver overturns 4 Bristol CAZ fines says it could mean fines have to be repaid  (Read 606 times)

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Driver overturns four Bristol CAZ fines and says it could mean every fine has to be repaid

The driver was so confident he appealed on behalf of a stranger, and even pledged to pay their fines if he failed. He didn't.

ByTristan CorkSenior Reporter
05:00, 7 AUG 2023UPDATED07:25, 7 AUG 2023

A driver who successfully overturned four Clean Air Zone fines claims he did so arguing technicalities in the legislation and regulations of the zones. And he claimed that means Bristol City Council may well have to pay back every single CAZ fine they’ve ever issued.

The man, who has declined to be named publicly at this stage, first took Bristol City Council to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal when he received two penalty charge notices for driving into Bristol’s Clean Air Zone earlier this year.

The city council said they wouldn't contest his appeal and withdrew the fines when the man, who we will refer to as Mr L, told the Tribunal adjudicator there were at least ten errors and omissions in the wordings of the CAZ regulations and the PCN fine notices that drivers receive, so his two fines were not legally enforceable.

Read next: No council review of Bristol's Clean Air Zone signs despite complaints

Mr L said that, rather than fight the case against this argument, the city council withdrew the fines completely, with the driver claiming he suspected the city council did not want to lose a case which could then set a precedent that may well end up with every CAZ fine having to be refunded.

So confident was Mr L of his argument that he then offered to take up an appeal on behalf of a complete stranger’s Bristol CAZ fine - the two fines incurred by Andrea and Lee Phillips. The couple from Liverpool were fined for driving into and out of the Clean Air Zone on a weekend break to Bristol back in April.

Mr and Mrs Phillips had already tried and failed to appeal their CAZ fines, on the grounds that they were from Liverpool, didn’t know anything about the Clean Air Zone, and didn’t see the signs or know what they meant as they drove into the city.

A sign warning of the Clean Air Zone in Southville, Bristol

Bristol City Council had already turned the couple's appeal on those grounds down when Mr L took up the case on their behalf. He even pledged to pay their fines for them if his strategy of challenging the legality of the Clean Air Zone regulations didn’t work.

He made the same representations to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal - an independent, judge-led ombudsman that assesses appeals against parking fines and penalty notices - for Mr and Mrs Phillips, and last week - again - Bristol City Council withdrew their PCNs, telling the Tribunal they would not be contesting them, leaving the couple owing nothing.

In its reasoning for not contesting Mr and Mrs Phillips’ fines, the council effectively said it was letting off the couple because they didn’t know about the Clean Air Zone - which was the couple’s original appeal arguments that had already been dismissed by the council, before Mr L got involved.

The statement from the council last week said: “On this occasion Bristol City Council will cancel the PCNs in favour of a warning given that the registered keeper of the vehicle is not from Bristol and may not have had prior knowledge or understanding of the Bristol Clean Air Zone. Bristol City Council now considers Mr Lee Phillips fully aware of the Clean Air Zone and the requirement to pay a daily charge, therefore any further PCNs incurred will more than likely be upheld if challenged.”

In its reasoning for not contesting Mr L’s own fines, the council said something different: “Although the PCN was issued correctly, Bristol City Council will not contest this PCN on this occasion as we believe the Notice of Rejection has not adequately addressed the points stated in the original formal representation.”

A ‘Notice of Rejection’ is the initial reasons given by the council to throw out a first appeal by a driver, who makes 'formal representation' to the council first, to explain why they don't think they should have to pay. Mr L’s detailed formal representation, seen by Bristol Live, centred around what he said were errors and omissions in the wording of the Clean Air Zone Charging Order - the regulations drawn up by the council to create the CAZ scheme - and discrepancies between that and the wording on the PCNs issued to every driver.

“A lot of it is pretty technical, but basically I think that the order being used by the council to issue fines under the Clean Air Zone is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he told Bristol Live. “There's about ten different points, but I’ll give three examples - the first is that the PCN every driver receives says it is being issued under the authority of something called the ‘Bristol City Council Clean Air Zone Charging Order 2022’. No such order exists - it’s actually called the ‘Bristol Clean Air Zone Charging Order 2022’. It sounds technical, but that’s enough to get every fine thrown out for a start,” he added.

“There’s another maybe ten other omissions, errors or breaches which a judge would view as making the PCN fines unenforceable. PCNs are overturned because of procedural impropriety on behalf of the charging authority, and the wording of the PCN tells drivers that if they have a time-limited option to pay a reduced fine, but if they appeal and lose they have to pay the full fine. That is not true, and I believe that counts as ‘threatening, improper and coercive’, which under the law means the fine is not legal because the notice contains that wording,” he added.

He cited other aspects of Bristol’s Clean Air Zone, from claiming the signage around the entrances to the Clean Air Zone is not sufficient or legal, to a claim that the Charging Order which created the Clean Air Zone is not accompanied by a map of the zone - both of which are flatly denied by Bristol City Council.

Mr L said he is desperate to test this at a tribunal hearing, and get a ruling on his points from a Tribunal judge, but Bristol City Council has so far steered away from doing that.

“I believe I am right, and I believe that if that is proved in a TPT ruling, then this will set a precedent. Bristol City Council know this and obviously don’t want that to happen. I am going to drive into Bristol and get a fine again, and appeal again and see what happens. This needs testing so people know one way or the other. The consequences could be huge, it could mean every PCN issued has to be refunded,” he added.

Mr L said he was among the campaigners who successfully challenged the regulations enforcing a bus gate in Dorchester Street in Bath, which in 2014 saw Bath and North East Somerset Council have to refund a total of £222,000 to drivers who had been fined.

In Bristol, there has also been a similar case. In 2019, Bristol City Council were ordered by the TPT to improve the signage on the M32 Metrobus exit, which banned private vehicles, after around £187,000 of fines were paid by almost 17,000 drivers who had mistakenly driven up the sliproad. The council at the time said it wouldn’t be repaying the fines, but drivers could appeal their individual fines.

Bristol Live approached Bristol City Council about Mr L’s specific case, and that of Mr and Mrs Phillips, and are awaiting a formal response. The city council has consistently stated that, while its signage around the CAZ area will be looked at if specific issues are flagged, there was no formal review as it was confident all the signage met the legal requirements laid down by the Government, and all the Clean Air Zone orders and regulations were legally sound.


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