Thousands of Mersey Gateway fines could be unenforceable after a landmark ruling about the controversial bridge was upheld.
Incredibly, one of those errors was the use of the word “toll” in the PCN , when the legal term is actually “road user charge.”
A Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) adjudicator said drivers do not pay a toll to cross the Mersey Gateway, as is stated by Halton Borough Council, but a “road user charge”, which is legally different, making the fine “defective”.
The case was brought by Scrap Mersey Tolls (SMT) campaigner Damien Curzon in March and has been upheld this week.
It means hundreds of drivers could contest their fines on the same grounds.
A spokesperson from the TPT said The Curzon case raised “significant issues that go to the heart of the Mersey Gateway Bridge charging scheme” and there were no legal grounds to justify overturning it.
He explained: “The decision is treated as ‘persuasive’ by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal adjudicators.
“This means – as in any Tribunal – that there is a presumption that adjudicators will follow the findings and reasoning in Adjudicator Kennedy’s judgment when deciding appeals raising the same issues. Each case is decided on its own merits and evidence, so an adjudicator will explain where different facts or principles apply.
“The findings in Curzon will be followed until and unless HBC applies to the High Court for Judicial Review of Adjudicator Kennedy’s decision.
“There were a number of cases on hold pending the outcome of this review decision. These will now be dealt with as soon as possible.”
In deciding Mr Curzon’s case, adjudicator M.F Kennedy said referring to non-payment of a “required toll” breached 2013 Regulations under the Transport Act 2000, and made the PCN issued “defective.”
It was this and various other errors known as ‘procedural improprieties’ that rendered the fines unenforceable.
Other mistakes that came to light during the Curzon case included use of the world “toll” on the bridge signage and the use of third party body Merseyflow to enforce the fines, as opposed to Halton Borough Council.
Halton Council, who are the charging authority, had applied to the TPT to revoke the decision made by Mrs Kennedy, but this was refused.
In dismissing the review request, Deputy Chief Adjudicator Mr Knapp found that the local authority had not established that the findings of Adjudicator Kennedy’s original decision could be described as ‘perverse or irrational, or amounting to an error of law’, as required by legal regulations.
The decision has been welcomed by Scrap Mersey Toll campaigners (SMT), who said the ruling is an “unshakable example” that the penalties on the bridge scheme are not enforceable.
John McGoldrick, of Scrap Mersey Tolls said: “Scrap Mersey Tolls did not fear any review of the TPT decision as we believed that there was an unshakable case that the penalties are not enforceable.
“Now there is not to be a review, it highlights that Halton Council and its allies are ignoring the fact that the penalties are not enforceable. Merseyflow continue to go on the rampage persecuting drivers for thousands of pounds in penalties that the Council know are not enforceable. This is causing increasing aggravation with people being frightened by demands, court documents, ‘final notices’ and visits from enforcement officers.”
However Halton council, who are no strangers to being challenged by the TPT, have responded by insisting it’s “business as usual on the Mersey Gateway”.
A spokeswoman said: “Halton Borough Council has been made aware of the Traffic Penalty Tribunal Adjudicator’s decision in a recent appeal case and the further decision by the same organisation to deny the Council a Review of the decision.
“The Council is currently reviewing its position.
“The Council will continue to contest PCN appeals based upon the circumstances applicable at the time of any failure to pay the toll and to each case in question.
“In this respect following a review by Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, the grounds of appeal relied on in this particular case are no longer available.”
Last year, the TPT ruled that five drivers were not liable to pay the toll because the council had not specified the price of them in their Road User Charging Scheme Order.
It led to calls for all tolls to be refunded and fines to be scrapped from both SMT campaigners and high profile legal experts.
In light of the most recent blunder, the council spokeswoman said the local authority would wish to reiterate that:
- Adjudication by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) cannot and does not, in law, invalidate or remove the powers in place from the 14 October 2017 to administer and enforce tolls on the Mersey Gateway Bridge.
- Adjudication is specific to the case being considered, and any decision of an Adjudicator only relates to that particular case.
- A decision of TPT does not have general effect nor carry any weight as precedent.
- Any suggestion that the Council has no power to charge or enforce how it does this or that the Council is acting inappropriately or “illegally” is misleading, inaccurate and wrong in law.
- The Adjudicators decision in respect of signage demonstrates the inconsistency of TPT in determining Mersey Gateway cases as it contradicts the decision of the Adjudicator in an early case where the Adjudicator concluded signage is “large, well sited, in clear view, and to communicate to a driver unfamiliar with the area that a payment was required and how to pay”