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Four local councils were saved from administrative and financial chaos by a court decision overturning an 'absurd' ...
Four local councils were saved from administrative and financial chaos by a court decision overturning an 'absurd' requirement that parking fine summonses must be served in person - and not by post.

Durham CC appealed to the High Court over North Durham Magistrates' requirement that the prosecution secure 'personal service' of the summonses - a step which can cost up to£80 per summons rather than the minimal charge of despatch by first class post.

Mr Justice Moses said the minimum charge associated with personal service was£10 to£15, rising to£80 if the motorist lived outside the county area. That cost could double if bailiffs were forced to re-issue the summons.

'In these circumstances it is readily understandable that the cost of enforcement is disproportionate to the costs of policing the charge,' said the judge, adding that the system could lead to a 'postcode lottery', unfairly targeting Durham motorists.

'Chaos would ensue should the county council be required to adopt personal service,' he observed. 'Drivers would become aware that enforcement is not possible; so long as they don't reveal their addresses they could park with impunity and break the law in that way.'

The effect of the decision was not confined to Durham CC, the court heard, with a 'similar approach' adopted by magistrates in Chester-Le-Street, Darlington, Wear Valley and Durham itself.

In the past, parking fine summonses were served by post, but Mr Justice Moses said the magistrates' decision was prompted by advice from their chief executive about the need to ensure that the correct defendant was identified.

North Durham Magistrates considered it within their 'discretion' to demand personal service 'in order to ensure that the persons against whom the prosecutions were brought had been correctly identified and made aware of the proceedings.'

But Mr Justice Moses said it was not within the magistrates' 'power or discretion' to make such a requirement, particularly since motorists have a legal obligation to notify the DVLA of any change of address.

The case focused on 21 charges heard by magistrates on 27 October last year, which were adjourned in order for personal service to be carried out. All the cases have since been 'resolved', said the judge, adding that the personal service requirement 'contradicted' the terms of the 1981 Magistrates' Courts Rules.

The judge - sitting with Mr Justice Leveson - granted Durham CC an order stating that magistrates had 'no power to order personal service'.

He said it would be 'absurd' to require the prosecution to go through the 'fruitless exercise' of attempting to personally serve summonses on defendants 'who have not even bothered to answer fixed notices or notify the DVLA of their change of address.'

After the hearing the council's solicitor, Claudine Freeman, said the council had been trying to arrange personal service since the magistrates' decision last September, incurring thousands of pounds in administrative charges. Over 200 summonses have been issued this year alone.

'The county council were worried that the scheme would become unenforcable,' she added. 'If we had lost this case and the public realised that we were finding it difficult to prosecute them, that would have meant a lot of people refusing to pay.'

The High Court ruling had avoided a 'wholesale abuse of the system', she concluded.


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