Judges open the door for even higher parking fines: Court rules private firm's £85 charge is 'not excessively high' 

  • Barry Beavis took on private car park operators over 'unfair' charges
  • 48-year-old tried to challenge £85 fine that he claimed was unjust
  • Left 'furious' after losing the landmark legal bid at the High Court
  • Judges found the charge was 'not extravagant or unconscionable' 

Barry Beavis, 48, lost his case at the Court of Appeal

A chip shop owner says he is 'absolutely furious' after losing his landmark legal bid to sweep away 'unfair' parking charges.

Barry Beavis, 48, from Chelmsford, Essex, took on private car park operators that heavily penalise motorists who overstay their allotted time in parking spaces.

He asked Court of Appeal judges in London to rule an £85 charge legally 'unenforceable'.

But the three judges unanimously dismissed his challenge, saying the amount he was charged 'is not extravagant or unconscionable'.

Mr Beavis, who owns The Happy Haddock fish and chips takeaway in Billericay, Essex, had argued in court that an £85 fine for exceeding his two-hour free stay by 56 minutes was disproportionate and should not be enforced. 

He has dedicated hundreds of hours and made three court appearances in an attempt to change the law that allows 'bullying' parking operators to 'extort' money from people. 

Mr Beavis, who is now planning to take his case to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, said: 'I am absolutely furious that they (the judges) have not upheld the law as it stands but have created new law'. 

He received a demand for £85 – discountable to £50 if paid within 14 days - after parking at Riverside Retail Park in Chelmsford on April 15, 2013.

The site offers two free hours of parking and he returned 56 minutes late.

ParkingEye argued at a hearing before Lord Justice Moore-Bick, Lord Justice Patten and Sir Timothy Lloyd that the charges were 'a commercially justified deterrent' for a city centre car park close to a station and a court complex where it was necessary to discourage overstayers.

The appeal judges accepted submission from Jonathan Kirk QC, representing the company, that the level of charges was neither extortionate nor unconscionable but within the bounds of reasonableness.

When he refused to pay, Mr Beavis was sent a court summons to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court and informed the fine had been increased to £150.

His appeal was against a decision of Judge Moloney QC at Cambridge County Court in May last year. He ruled the £85 charge was lawful and did not breach the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Sa'ad Hossain QC, representing Mr Beavis, argued that Judge Moloney had taken a wrong approach to the law and the charge amounted to 'a penalty clause' not binding on Mr Beavis.

To be lawful, charges should be set at levels meant only to compensate for any loss in achieving the aim of deterring overstayers and not to make large profits, said Mr Hossain.

The losses to ParkingEye were very small administrative costs, and its charges were so excessive as to be unenforceable. 

The Consumer Association, were also represented at the hearing after receiving permission to become an intervening party.

In the judgement Lord Justice Moore-Bick said: 'The conditions on which motorists were allowed to use the car park were prominently displayed and contained no concealed pitfalls or traps.

'Nor did ParkingEye take advantage of any weaknesses on the part of those using the car park.

'The suggestion by the Consumers' Association that ParkingEye, in making a profit out of parking charges in general, acted in breach of good faith is one that I cannot accept.

Speaking outside of the Court of Appeal Mr Beavis said he would now be taking the case to the Supreme Court

Speaking outside of the Court of Appeal Mr Beavis said he would now be taking the case to the Supreme Court

'No doubt from time to time motorists misjudge the time and incur charges as a result but that is a routine aspect of life for those who use on-street parking meters and car parks operated by local authorities.

'In the end I am satisfied that in this case the amount payable by the appellant is not extravagant or unconscionable and that the court should therefore not decline to enforce the contract,' the judge said.

'I therefore dismiss the appeal.'

Lord Justice Moore-Bick granted permission for the judgement to be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

After the ruling Mr Beavis said: 'This isn't over. We will be going to the Supreme Court.

'I have lost the case, but on law that doesn't exist. The Court of Appeal does not have the legal right to make laws here.'

He said: 'I am utterly, utterly furious and will continue the fight.'

Mr Beavis had said previously that he hoped he would win the case 'for motorists everywhere'.

He said: 'What makes me angry is that these companies currently extort money by threatening and bullying people into paying up.

'A fine of £85 is not proportionate to overstaying by 56 minutes.' 

A ParkingEye spokesperson said: 'We are very pleased with the outcome of this landmark Court of Appeal case which further confirms that our parking charges are fair, reasonable and legally enforceable. 

'The judgment gives much needed clarity to motorists and the parking industry as a whole.' 

Parking trap: Many motorists face steep fines for running a few minutes over their allotted time

Parking trap: Many motorists face steep fines for running a few minutes over their allotted time

The ruling was a disappointment for motorists' organisations, including the AA, which said it hoped the appeal would 'bring some clarity' to private parking enforcement and end 'rip-off' charges - or the Government itself would impose a fairer regulatory system.

Edmund King, AA president, said: 'We are now in an era of mass ticketing with cameras in nearly all large private car parks.

'There is no longer the threat of a clamp but instead the threat of debt collectors and ruined credit references.

'This has proved to be the case and many motorists just pay up disproportionate 'fines' as they are worried about their credit rating being affected if they don't pay up. In many cases the amounts charged for over-staying are a rip-off compared to what is charged in local authority car parks.

'We hoped that this appeal would bring some clarity to the situation as many parking enforcers have just been getting away with what they can.' 

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: 'For something that plays such a small part in drivers' lives, parking on private land generates a huge amount of anger and frustration.

'It is absurd something like this has had to come to the Court of Appeal.

'It is deeply frustrating that the case has gone against Mr Beavis, but we believe the days of sky-high charges and business models that incentivise firms to issue tickets like confetti no matter how minor the misdemeanour are numbered.

'The outgoing coalition Government took action on making parking on public land fairer and last month launched a consultation on how to do the same on private land.

'Ministers must take a grip of this essentially unregulated area. It should not be up to the industry to self-regulate and there needs to be a fair and reasonable code of practice set up by government.'

Consumer watchdog Which? expressed dismay over today's ruling.

Executive director Richard Lloyd said: 'We are concerned this decision waters down the law on penalty charges and may encourage excessive default charges across a wide range of consumer markets.

'Given the possible ramifications of this case for all consumers, we will be looking to intervene again in the Supreme Court hearing.'  

Three judges unanimously dismissed his challenge at the Court of Appeal, saying the amount he was charged 'is not extravagant or unconscionable'.

Three judges unanimously dismissed his challenge at the Court of Appeal, saying the amount he was charged 'is not extravagant or unconscionable'.