|Robin de Crittenden visited his local council offices and when he came out, he was less than thrilled to find that he had been awarded a £30 fixed-penalty parking ticket. Knowing his constitutional law, Mr. de Crittenden realized that under the 1689 Bill of Rights, he could not be fined unless he had been properly convicted in a court of law. So when he dug into the matter, he found that the power to issue automatic fines was created in the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which ignored the Bill of Rights.|
Mr. de Crittenden knew that Lord Justice Laws had said, in the case of the Metric Martyrs in 2002, that the Bill of Rights cannot be set aside in subsequent legislation unless this fact is stated specifically in the subsequent Bill. This argument was crucial to Lord Laws' decision to uphold the convictions.
The 'Metric Martyrs' had been prosecuted for selling good weighed in pounds and ounces, which was made a criminal offence by the European Communities Act of 1972. The 'Martyrs' argued that the 1985 Weights and Measure Act gave them permission to continue to sell goods in non-metric measures.
It is traditional for a later Act to override an earlier Act, when there is a difference between them, according to the principle of 'implied repeal'. Lord Laws ruled, however, that the European Communities Act is a 'constitutional statute' and the 1985 Act did not take precedence (and effectively repeal it) as it there was no specific section in the 1985 Act stating that it overrode the 1972 Act.
As a result of his research, Mr. de Crittenden has put the courts, not to mention the government and local councils everywhere, in an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, if Lord Laws is right, the 1991 Road Traffic Act cannot implicitly repeal sections of the 1689 Bill of Rights because the Bill of Rights is a 'constitional statute'. On the other hand, if Lord Laws is wrong, then the Metric Martyrs should never have been convicted and they are entitled to massive compensation.
Armed with this argument, Mr. de Crittenden refused to pay his fine until Sandwell Council took him to court and secured a proper conviction. Two years on, the council has failed to take up his challenge and as a result of the publicity which Mr. de Crittenden has gained, motorists all over the country are refusing to pay similar automatic fines.
Mr. de Crittenden's challenge has paralyzed the councils. If they abide by the law as laid down by Lord Laws, they have no power to fine motorists for illegal parking without taking them to court. And if they do take illegal parkers to court, the legal system will collapse under the strain.
Worse, the same applies to other bodies which imposed automatic fines, such as the Inland Revenue and its £100 fine for a late tax return. Even worse, the government may not just rush through an Act which explicitly overrules the Bill of Rights as the Bill is based on the Declaration of Rights, which provides the authority by which Parliament enjoys its power, and which cannot be repealed.
So the choices for the government and the legal system come down to agreeing with Lord Laws and acknowledging that fines without conviction are unconstitutional and unlawful, or finding that Lord Laws got it wrong and acknowledging that the Metric Martyrs were persecuted for no good reason.
Nice one, Mr. de Crittenden!