Today I finally got to go to court to contest my parking ticket from last July. Unlike the rest of the UK, parking offences have not been decriminalised here yet, and the only way to contest a ticket seems to be to go to court. Of course it takes a long time for this to happen – almost exactly a year in this case. I read somewhere recently that less than 10% of cases in the Magistrates Courts are ever contested (and less than 2% actually lead to an acquittal), and this definitely seemed to be in evidence here – I was the only case (on a docket of about 70) that was contested today – thus meaning I had to wait until all the other cases were disposed of.
The police called the traffic warden first, who gave his very basic statement: “I saw this car without a ticket; I checked the nearest parking meter and it appeared to be working; I waited 12 minutes in case the owner was getting change, then I issued the ticket.” I asked if he had seen any notice left on the dashboard, and he responded that there was a note stating that the meter wasn’t accepting credit cards. I asked if he had checked this, and he stated that there was a light on the meter that showed whether the credit card system was working or not, and it showed that it was.
At this point the magistrate started asking the traffic warden lots of questions about how exactly he knew the machine was working: whether they were issued a card to test the system with; whether he had seen anyone else successfully use a credit card in the machine etc. He didn’t seem impressed that the traffic warden didn’t have any way of knowing whether the machine was actually working or not, other than a light which was supposed to go off when it wasn’t.
Next the police called a woman from the DVLNI who proceeded to give lots of information to prove that I was the keeper of the car that was ticketed. As she began what looked like being a lengthy discourse on how exactly their systems worked for cross-referencing the initial registration of a car with the purchase of road tax every year, the magistrate interrupted to state that he didn’t believe that I was planning to dispute that the car was mine. I confirmed this and the DVLNI witness was done.
Then I got to tell my tale of how I had parked in the same place every day for almost a year, but on this day when I tried the meter it came back with “Card Services Not Available.” I explained that I had tried 2 different meters, and looked for coins, but had none.
The magistrate asked if anyone had a copy of the Road Traffic Order to see what was supposed to happen in such a case, and didn’t seem impressed that the police didn’t have a copy of it in court. They all agreed that it probably stated that it was up to the driver to pay somehow, and that the credit card feature was merely a convenience, so that even when it wasn’t working, (or even if the entire meter was broken) drivers would still have to pay some other way. As such he had to find me guilty, but as the DOE should keep the machines working properly, he gave me an unconditional discharge.
All told I had to spend about 4 hours in court (2 hours a few weeks ago for the pleading, and 2 hours today for the case), all to avoid a £20 parking ticket. But it was interesting seeing the Magistrates Courts at work, and the case itself was actually quite fun. And in the end I got to defend my principles reasonably successfully, so all in all it was probably worth doing.