The Court of Appeal has ruled in Parking Eye v Beavis that parking tickets issued by private companies are enforceable in many situations, despite being an example of a punitive contractual clause.
This is something of a personal disappointment for me. I have been arguing for years that private tickets were effectively a made up scam, and should not be paid. The idea that a private company can 'fine' you for not following its rules seemed quite distasteful. And the law seemed to be on our side, as even if the company could claim you made a contract to pay its 'fine', the law has traditionally not recognised as valid clauses that are punitive in nature. Therefore the idea that private companies were levying 'fines', without any power to do so whatsoever, and while giving the widespread impression that they did have such a power, all made me rather irate.
For the past ten years or so I have been raising awareness of the potentially dubious nature of tickets from private companies and trying to make people aware that they are not the same as tickets from councils or the police. I staked a certain amount of my reputation on it and have criticized the CAB and similar organizations int he past for not taking a strong line that people should not usually be expected to pay such charges.
So when Beavis was in the news last week, I initially felt what could be described as "an inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult. Characterized by strong feelings of shame." I'd been misadvising people all these years. The people I had thought were scammers were found to have been right.
But I suppose something had to give sooner or later. The long-awaited and long-needed banning of private clamping in 2012 was partially driven by a compromise that some form of enforceable private ticketing system would take its place. It was certainly a compromise I would have agreed to. It was a strong message that the industry up until that point had been tainted by poor practice.
What was really needed all along was some certainty in the law, with safeguards, and on reflection I feel that the Beavis judgment is not all bad. Although technically the court 'declares what the law has always been', in practice it is making new law for the future. The judgment says that charges must be justifiable. The charges must be clearly displayed and there cannot be traps or pitfalls waiting. At a stroke, this final condition still leaves the tickets from the most prolific private parking operations based near to me unenforceable as they were mostly predicated on traps and pitfalls.
There is now some certainty in the law, which is vital to allow people to change their behaviour. There are also some reasonable safeguards.