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Fining car owners for littering

On June 21, 2012, in Fixed Penalty Notices, Litter fines, by PeterSilverman

“I believe that your campaigning has helped to create a regime, in which littering culprits are now less rather than more likely to be apprehended and punished”

E-mail from Rupert Lipton 15th June 2012

Let me say at the outset that I personally have had a lifelong loathing of people who drop litter and the resultant degradation of our environment.  I massively applaud your campaigning efforts and apparent effectiveness.

However – I also believe in some fundamental principles of a just society – that laws should be made, passed and scrutinized by a democratically elected parliament, that governments, local and national work for the people and that everyone has the right to proper judicial consideration of any alleged offences before the imposition of a penalty.

In this context I am shocked and saddened to see that your obvious passion about the problem of littering seems to have allowed you to justify to yourself, that individuals should be summarily punished for the crimes of others.  I can just about accept that in the case of a parking transgression, a vehicle keeper may be held responsible for an offence committed by another person.  After all, the ownership and use of a vehicle is well regulated and in practice, a vehicle keeper has a considerable degree of control (and attendant responsibility) over who else may use his or her vehicle.  If another person’s actions lead to the imposition of a financial penalty, it is highly likely that the keeper will be able to 1) identify the transgressor and 2) successfully seek recompense for the penalty paid.

However, in the case of littering from vehicles, these parallels all break down.  If it is difficult (but not impossible) for authorities to establish and prove who threw litter from a moving vehicle, it is similarly difficult in many cases for a vehicle keeper to do so.  Worse, I believe that your campaigning has helped to create a regime, in which littering culprits are now less rather than more likely to be apprehended and punished.  The police will increasingly see littering as not their responsibility, leaving only this keeper liability regime, but non vehicle keeping litterers will soon learn that they can act with impunity, particularly if they are one of a number of passengers in a vehicle.

As an aside, I would like to query the contention that I see you have made on your website, that the evidential burden will drop from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to’ the balance of probabilities’.  Leaving aside the fundamental principle that individuals should not be punished by the state (as opposed to the civil standard that applies in contractual disputes for example) unless they are proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt, I do believe that you are just plain wrong on this point.  If I am mistaken I would be pleased to be educated.  Parking enforcement was ‘decriminalised’ until the authorities realised that this was technically a mistake and the phrase ‘civil parking enforcement’ was substituted.  This is because in the case of parking offences (and littering offences), the underlying contravention is still a crime (in the case of littering contravention of s.87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990).  It is the ENFORCEMENT which is taken out of the criminal space and ultimately becomes a civil debt.  The offences against statue still exist, and whilst there are protections in the law to protect against simultaneous criminal and civil enforcement, unless I am very much mistaken, a police officer is still entitled to report a suspected offence to the prosecuting authorities in the usual way.

Once again, thank-you for caring, but I look forward to receiving your thoughts on these issues.

Rupert Lipton



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