Clamping companies who charge sky-high fees for the release of cars are breaking the law, according to the RAC.
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The idea of one citizen ‘punishing’ another is alien in English law, said barrister and engineer Dr Chris Elliot, who conducted a review of private parking laws for the RAC Foundation.
He said wheel clamping is ‘perverse’ and suggested that even firms who charge reasonable release fees are on shaky legal grounds.
The Home Office is currently consulting on how wheel clamping can be better regulated.
Dr Elliot said: ‘The Home Office is proposing a new licensing regime for private clampers, but it is arguable that, if the release fee is unreasonable, their actions are incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, which demands that punishment should only come after a proper legal process.
‘The purpose of clamping is to prevent a vehicle being removed from land it should not be on. On the face of it, clamping is perverse since it causes the harm to the landowner to persist. It is in effect a self-inflicted wound.’
He continued: ‘The tactic only makes sense either to punish or deter. Both have little foundation in English law, since they are based on a notion that one person may punish another. But punishment is a power reserved to the State.’
Previously courts found that, provided there were clear warning signs that the driver could see and appreciate, drivers ‘consented’ to being clamped.
The RAC Foundation’s director, Professor Stephen Glaister, is now urging the government to carry out a fundamental review of the law.
‘We recognise the right of a landowner to enjoy his property without unauthorised obstruction. However for so many reasons clamping does not fit the bill as a method of enforcement.
‘With depressing regularity the Foundation receives calls from distressed motorists who have fallen victim to cowboy clampers whose primary objective appears not to be to protect landowners’ property, but simply to take large amounts of money from ordinary people who, for the most part, are doing little harm.’
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