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Metric Culprits

How Parking Ticket fines expose the flaw in the Metric Martyr conviction


Do parking fines before conviction infringe our fundamental rights? Photo: bbc.co.uk

A significant inconsistency has appeared in the February 2002 ruling that convicted Steven Thoburn of a crime for selling bananas by the pound.

A member of the public who received a parking fine through the post refused to pay the fine by quoting the Bill of Rights Act 1689:

"That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void".

"Before conviction" means that no fine or forfeit can be imposed until and unless the individual is convicted in a court of law.

Of course, under constitutional law, the Bill of Rights Act 1689 gives way to the Road Traffic Acts of 1991 and 1994. This is because Road Traffic Acts provide for penalties outside of a court and, under British law, it is the later Act that takes precedence. Thus, the Road Traffic Acts of 1991 and 1994 repeal the Bill of Rights Act to the extent that they differ.

However, the Divisional Court ruling in the case of the "Metric Martyrs" (sections 62 and 63) said:

"We should recognise a hierarchy of Acts of Parliament: as it were "ordinary" statutes and "constitutional statutes". The special status of constitutional statutes follows the special status of constitutional rights. Examples are the Magna Carta, Bill of Rights 1689 … Ordinary statutes may be impliedly repealed. Constitutional statutes may not…"

Thus, the Divisional Court ruled, the European Communities Act 1972, requiring metric, could and must repeal the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (allowing pounds and ounces), because the former was a "constitutional act" and the latter "ordinary". This is the point on which Sunderland greengrocer Steven Thoburn and his co-defendants were convicted as criminals for selling in pounds and ounces.

Herein lies the conflict. During the 1990s, the majority of local councils in England and Wales "decriminalised" the levying of parking fines. This means that, instead of referring disputes over penalties to legal bodies such as magistates courts, now, disputes are heard by administrative bodies:

But if the Divisional Court's ruling is true, Local Authorities covered by the above two schemes, are now acting unlawfully, since the Bill of Rights Act 1689 was specifically classified as a "constitutional Act". The Road Traffic Acts 1991 and 1994 others like it are, by contrast, "ordinary" Acts. Unless the road traffic acts expressly refer to the fundamental rights laid down by the Bill of Rights Act (which they do not), they must fall by the wayside since, according to the Divisional Court, the Bill of Rights Act cannot be impliedly repealed. It is a constitutional Act that protects our "constitutional rights".

So, if constitutional Acts like the Bill of Rights and the European Communities Act cannot be impliedly repealed, why are local authorities still collecting penalties from the public without conviction? Presumably, local authorities do so because they do not agree with the Divisional Court; they believe that the Bill of Rights Act was repealed impliedly by the Road Traffic Act. But, if this is so, what is the legal basis for prosecuting traders using pounds and ounces?

Please note, BWMA is unable to give advice or support regarding parking ticket disputes. Please instead visit: http://www.parkingappeals.co.uk

For further information:

The Bill of Rights Act 1689 - background and text in full
The Claim of Right Act 1689 (applying to Scotland) - in full
An article: "A Silver Lining from the Case of the Metric Martyrs"
Another article: "Is Divorce a conviction?"
Read Christopher Booker's Notebook
Why BWMA says pounds and ounces are still lawful
Article: "Whose Law is it anyway?"
Opinion: "The Metric Martyrs and the Constitution"
The 18 February 2002 Divisional Court ruling in full
The Freedom of Information Act 2000

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