Parking company sues top QC, loses

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By Katie King on

Doughty Street barrister achieves what fish and chip shop owner Barry Beavis couldn’t

A Doughty Street Chambers QC has proved victorious in a spat over an £85 parking ticket.

Car park management company ParkingEye sued Nicholas Bowen QC after he overstayed a free two-hour limit. Sussex University graduate Bowen is a tort law and human rights expert with over 30 years experience in legal practice.

Bowen pulled into an M4 service station in May 2016 just before midnight because he was tired at the wheel and in need of a nap. The top silk said he woke up at about 2.20am and drove off. ParkingEye told Legal Cheek:

[T]he motorist overstayed the two hours free of charge period by 35 minutes without purchasing a parking ticket. This was the reason for his parking charge being issued.

Bowen — who recently appeared in the Supreme Court in a case we termed “a tort student’s dream” — claims he did not see the two-hour limit notices. When he subsequently discovered signs referencing 24/7 charging, this information: “was in microscopic print in a different part of the car park requiring 20/20 vision or a magnifying glass.”

Amal Clooney’s chamber mate probably has £85 to spare, but didn’t pay on a public interest basis. He tried to appeal the fine internally and, when sued by ParkingEye in the county court, refused to roll.

In an email to the company, seen by The Guardian, Bowen said:

My defence was that your contract was unenforceable, and that you have no legal right to charge members of the public for night parking in service station car parks. Charging overstayers at night is unfair and a violation of consumer protection law. I defended your misconceived claim on a public interest basis, as it would have been far easier just to pay the ticket.

ParkingEye claims to win 90% of its county court hearings — but not this one. The judge struck out the case and ordered ParkingEye to pay Bowen £1,550 in costs.

Capita-owned ParkingEye was not in attendance at the county court. Bowen described this as “pretty poor show.” But the company said it did send a representative who was told the case had not been listed. ParkingEye told us:

In spite of us being told the hearing had been taken off the list, the motorist’s representative appeared before a judge without our attendance and we have not had the opportunity to provide our arguments as appropriate and fairly, as we had intended. ParkingEye is now considering its options within the time limits set out by the court.

With ParkingEye mulling over its options, could the case end up in the highest echelons of the justice system?

It wouldn’t be the first time for such a parking ticket dispute. Readers may remember Barry Beavis (pictured below), a fish and chip shop owner from Essex who refused to pay what he believed was an “unfair” parking charge. Despite being knocked down at first instance and in the Court of Appeal, Beavis continued his legal fight all the way up to the Supreme Court.

And that’s where he lost (again). The judges, headed by Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, decided the £85 charge was “neither extravagant nor unconscionable.”

Despite the defeat, Beavis’ plight captured hearts and attention. He was helped out by pro bono legal advice and representation throughout the case’s journey, and managed to crowdfund thousands of pounds to help with legal costs. We wonder if Bowen’s ParkingEye spat will be as impactful.

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