“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” (Thomas Edison)
Fairly soon after I received my Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) I visited a local solicitor to see if he could explain the legal basis on which it had been issued. Even though he had extensive experience of dealing with motoring and traffic offences he didn’t have a clue about the law surrounding PCNs. The problem is that no-one is really quite sure what is going on either – and that includes some of the local councils operating the enforcement scheme.
To put it simply, local councils are operating a legalised extortion racket. I have been desperately searching for some analogy to try and explain how the process works, but the nearest I can come to is that it is a cross between a confidence trick and a school bully.
The legal starting point is a few hundred years ago with the 1689 Bill of Rights. This bill is the nearest thing we have to a constitution and is regarded as sacrosanct by most decent politicians. One passage reads: “All grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void.” Put more simply you cannot be fined until you have been tried in a court of law and convicted of a criminal offence. The right to a fair trial is at the cornerstone of all human rights legislation.
Well yes, that is unless you decide to “decriminalise” some offences. You do this by massaging the language in a way that would make Sir Humphrey (for those of you that remember “Yes Minister”) proud. With the help of a parliamentary bill, and provided local councils choose their words correctly they can get away with extorting money out of motorists. I use the verb extort advisedly; it means “to obtain something by force or threat, or with difficulty” (Cambridge Dictionary) or to “obtain by force, threats, or other unfair means” (Oxford Dictionary). In this case local councils are legally permitted to obtain money by threat.
Here are the linguistic subtleties as defined in the Hustler’s Decriminalised Dictionary:
|Criminal wording||Decriminalised wording|
Geddit? Not Sure? Let me illustrate.
Scenario: A photographer snaps pictures of a celeb fooling around with someone other than his/her partner. Photographer contacts celeb and says, “Pay up and I will destroy the evidence, otherwise I will go to the News of the World.”
Scenario: Local council takes pictures of a motorist stopped in a yellow box junction. Council contacts motorist and says, “Pay up and we will destroy the evidence, otherwise we might take you to court.”
You are not being accused of committing an offence immediately because an accusation must lead to a trial. Councils simply allege that a traffic contravention occurred and they invite (I’m being kind here) you to pay them hush money.
This is just the tip of the iceberg; it gets worse the deeper you dig. Talk about erosion of human rights –
WAKE UP ALL YOU ZOMBIES OUT THERE. Justice has left the building…