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Misleading court-case figures led to change in private parking law

[14 July 2012] In its successful campaign to get the law changed so that registered keepers would be liable to pay private parking ‘penalties’ incurred by drivers, the British Parking Association (BPA) – which represents the private parking industry and claims to be the ‘recognized authority’ on UK parking – massively inflated the figures for the number of cases its members were pushing through the court system, according to the Government’s answer to a freedom-of-information request

The BPA dodgy figures, which were quoted unchallenged in the Government’s all-important ‘impact assessment’ of the proposed law change, helped persuade MPs to pass a law requiring registered keepers to pay private parking ‘fines’ even if they were not driving the vehicle at the time. This effectively makes them a party to a contract they had not made, which is thought to be a unique step in English law.

Unbelievably, the BPA now says its figures, given to the Government as evidence, were based merely on ‘anecdotal conversations’ with its members. The BPA told the Government that 2–5% of its private parking members’ tickets were contested in court, a huge number that in real terms means 36,000 to 90,000 a year, and that this would diminish if registered keeper liability came in. Clearly, the courts were being swamped by this colossal number of cases. 

The Government, through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, printed the BPA figures twice as part of its evidence-base in the impact assessment on the new law, swallowing the BPA argument whole. The DVLA apparently failed to check the figures, as it should have done. MPs were convinced, and the law was changed. 

But the BPA figures were wrong, and it is very hard to imagine how the BPA could not have known they were wrong. After a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, it’s now clear that in 2011 only about 845 cases from BPA private members went through the court system, and only 49 of these went before a judge for a final hearing. So not 90,000 or 36,000, but 49. Of these, the companies lost more than half.

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