Lord Justice Jackson has granted leave for an appeal against a High Court ruling that Westminster City Council were entitled to use Traffic Act powers to pioneer a new bike parking tax – in preparation for selling it as a ‘service’ to any UK council in need of a new source of cash. And, although some folk saw it as a victory for WCC and wannabe motorcycle parking taxers, I was convinced it was a hollow one. In fact, from the day of that ruling I’d said it was only a matter of time till the extremely odd conclusions in it were called into question – because in my view they were deeply flawed. It’s been a long three months since then though, so it is now a huge relief to know that the questioning can start in earnest.
The reason this decision and forthcoming appeal is so critical is that it provides an intriguingly unique opportunity to probe the extent to which UK Traffic Act powers can be used to introduce a new charging scheme, even though it has no demonstrable or even plausible traffic management benefit. In essence, the ‘trial version of the scheme proved that the income from the new charges exceeded all costs by over £500,000 in the first few months. This clearly shows the scheme creates a significant revenue which is against Local Government Act legislation on various counts.
The decision to grant leave to appeal against High Court ruling by Lord Justice Pitchford was made by The Rt Hon. Lord Justice Jackson who has raised concern about rising legal costs limiting access to justice by ordinary people, and who was recently quoted by the Law Society Gazette as saying:
“Access to Justice entails that those with meritorious claims are able to bring those claims before the courts for judicial resolution or post-issue settlement, as the case may be.”
On hearing news of the decision I called Philip Coppel QC, the Barrister who I had discussed key aspects of the case with and in some depth prior to him submitting the request for an appeal. Due to an odd quirk of circumstances he hadn’t yet heard the news before I rang. His initial delight was however increased when I read out the Order from the Judge that said: “Permission to appeal is granted on grounds 1 to 6,”. The extent of his initial positive reaction was however eclipsed when I read out a note at the bottom of the Appeal Court Order. This explained that although an appeal on ground 7 was refused at this stage, it went on to say that if the appellant makes a renewed application on that ground, “this should be dealt with by the full court at the hearing of the appeal.”
Put simply, what this means effectively is that every one of the grounds for appeal against the first High Court judgement has been accepted as a good reason for re-examining the entire first ruling, AND thereby opening several doors through which the whole twisted caboodle can be chucked out. In my view, the sole purpose for the new motorcycle parking scheme in question is to raise revenue.
To put this in to context, having leave to appeal on one ground alone is jolly good news as the rules for doing so are simple. The Court of Appeal can only grant permission to review and potentially quash a judgement if it thinks the appeal would have “a real prospect of success”, or there is “some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard.”
As it happened, I ended the day I heard this news on the 18th floor of Westminster City Hall. There, for my sins, I was attending the first meeting of the Council’s Road User Forum as the Transport Policy Advisor for MAG. And so it came to pass that I was able to tell its chairman, Cllr Lee Rowley and known associate officer Kieran Fitzall, that despite the council’s best efforts to get an appeal against the High Court decision rejected, permission had been granted for it to go-ahead…