Ms Gallagher and Mr Thornton are quite within their rights to refuse to pay these fines (Middy May 5).
I am not a lawyer but I was directed to the Appeal Court judgement by a solicitor from the RAC and to the interpretation rule by another solicitor. It may be that the above readers are not aware of these points.
1. Appeal Court judgement. This was a judgement by Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in the case of Thornton v Shoe lane Parking Limited 2 WLR 585 which centred around the contract made when one takes a ticket from the machine at the barrier and he stated that ‘a customer of a car park would only be bound by those terms that were displayed “reasonably sufficiently” so as to give him notice of it.’
In this case Shoe Lane Parking admitted that the company did not do what was reasonably sufficient to give Mr Thornton (the original one, that is!) notice of the condition. Lord Denning MR went on to say ‘All I say is that (the condition) is so wide and so destructive of rights that the court should not hold any man bound by it unless it is drawn to his attention in the most explicit way. It is an instance of what I had in mind in J Spurling Ltd v Bradshaw  1 WLR 461, 466. In order to give sufficient notice, it would need to be printed in red ink with a red hand pointing to it – or something equally startling.’
Apparently, in his deliberations Lord Denning MR, said that in a car parking situation as above, one should not have to enter, take or pay for a ticket, park one’s car and then walk to somewhere else to see what the conditions for entering the car park are.
2. Contra proferentem interpretation rule.
This rule is brought into play when there is a dispute involving some ambiguous situation. It seems to me that if the car parking company is issuing fines for not displaying the purchased parking ticket when there are no specific instructions for the customer to do so is, at the very least, an ambiguous situation.
The contra proferentem rule provides that in an ambiguous situation the conflicting terms be construed against the party that drafted the conditions.
In ordinary terms, if one is about to be penalised in what can reasonably be seen as an ambiguous situation, one can choose the interpretation that suits one’s purpose best, ie, not to be penalised in any way, and a court should find in that way.
An example of the use of this rule that has been widely quoted was that of a driver who bought his ticket and parked in a council car park and went off to do his shopping. However, when he got to the shop he found it was their half-day closing so went back to his car and then on to another council car park a few roads away – using the same ticket as there was still time left on it.
When he returned to the car he found a penalty notice and when he contested it he was told that the ticket was clearly printed with “not transferable”. He again appealed, pointing out that it was ambiguous – was it ‘not transferable’ to another person, or car, or car park and the fine was quashed.
I haven’t seen the station car park myself but from the little I have read it sounds that the company have not done anything that would counter the above defences.
I hope that this is of some use, I would just say that I used the contra proferentem rule to defend myself against a charge of parking on a double red line in London. I found an ambiguity in some government road traffic publication and the Metropolitan Police decided not to proceed.
B J Solloway
Mill Road, Burgess Hill
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