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In the UK, there was recently a case in the press about a driver that was issued a fine for driving in a bus lane. The photograph the Local Authority supplied as "evidence" was of someone wearing an item of clothing with wording that was similar to the number plate of his car.

Clearly, this fine was issued by software and no human being was actually involved in the process. Apparently this is acceptable.

My question is, this behaviour is so egregious, does the "offender" have the right to completely ignore the fine and all its auto-generated escalation correspondence, until an actual human being finally looks at it, realises the error and quashes the case?

If he did ignore it completely, and the first human to see it were a judge, would that judge 1) have sympathy for his situation and reprimand the Local Authority for wasting the court's time, or 2) take a dim view of his lack of action to get the case quashed at an earlier stage?

If 2), what if this item of clothing became fashionable and was therefore causing this person to receive hundreds of these fines every week?

EDIT: In response to @motosubatsu's answer, in particular my "fashionable item" aspect. I suppose by "fashionable item" I was intending to cover a larger topic which I could summarise like this: Suppose I want to annoy somebody as much as possible, what's to stop me from printing a t-shirt with their actual number plate on it, then walking around past all sorts of cameras, knowing that they will receive multiple fines every day and have no choice but to keep calling and explaining. After all, the council has no duty to make it easy for someone to get through on the phone, so, potentially, I could walk around bus lanes and car parks all day. I could get some friends to do this all over the country in different local authority areas and the victim could - literally - have not enough hours in the day to have to keep fighting false fines. Would they not have some recourse to sue for harassment or "vexatious litigation"?

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    It's worth noting that if you think this is unjust and wrong (as I do for example) since it puts the onus on the defendant to prove innocence instead of on the state to prove guilt send a letter to your MP arguing for some equitable resolution. Either the unjustly accused person should get restitution for his costs (time invested to dispute, energy and stress accompanying the situation) or maybe there should be a requirement of human intervention. It won't happen on it's own.
    – DRF
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:52
  • The reason I'm pointing that out is that motosubatsu's answer is correct currently as a matter of law and as such it's quite easy for someone to get into serious legal/financial trouble if they do not dispute the fine on time or ignore it or whatever. That's probably not a just outcome of some state actor making an error.
    – DRF
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:55
  • @DRF In light of the answer by motosubatsu, I will definitely be writing to my MP and raising it. He is a a chocolate fireguard though, so there's a 99.9% chance I'll be wasting my time.
    – Lefty
    Nov 25, 2021 at 22:10

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I assume you're talking about this case: Bus lane camera mistakes woman's sweater for number plate.

No he couldn't just ignore it - because that doesn't actually result in it getting put in front of a human (judge or otherwise). Instead the fine would escalate and ultimately be passed to a collections agency. Only challenging the Penalty Charge Notice (as this person did) would get a human involved.

As a bonus, if the automated fine happens to come with a S172 notice to identify the driver ignoring that is an offence in of itself (irrespective of the original alleged offence), and in many cases carries a worse penalty (£1000 and 6 points IIRC).

what if this item of clothing became fashionable and was therefore causing this person to receive hundreds of these fines every week?

While it's unlikely to get to that stage - the item of clothing on its own wouldn't do it, there needed to be a specific partial-obscurement of the garment as well, it's not impossible, after all perhaps it's their favorite sweater, they always carry their bag like that and cut across the bus lane on their way to work etc. In those circumstances there's nothing legally that changes, I'd expect the poor vehicle owner to be on first name terms with the people at the council enforcement call centre in question sooner rather than later.

Re edit:

Suppose I want to annoy somebody as much as possible, what's to stop me from printing a t-shirt with their actual number plate on it, then walking around past all sorts of cameras, knowing that they will receive multiple fines every day and have no choice but to keep calling and explaining. After all, the council has no duty to make it easy for someone to get through on the phone, so, potentially, I could walk around bus lanes and car parks all day. I could get some friends to do this all over the country in different local authority areas and the victim could - literally - have not enough hours in the day to have to keep fighting false fines. Would they not have some recourse to sue for harassment or "vexatious litigation"?

In all honesty I don't know for sure what would happen in this scenario - I can't think of a similar enough case. But I would expect targeting an individual in this manner would qualify as harassment pretty easily and for which there are both criminal and civil actions that can be taken.

I suppose hypothetically you could argue that the "number plate shirt" is effectively being used to make false allegations that the car's registered keeper had committed crimes, which opens up avenues to prosecution for Perverting the Course of Justice or wasting police time. But I have no idea how likely that would be to be pursued.

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  • I'm sure they'd find something to charge you with if you were interfering with the system of traffic cameras, rather than it depending on harassment action by a victim. The Road Traffic Act 1988 has an offence of directly or indirectly interfering with traffic equipment, and there is lots of more general legislation: public order, etc.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 26, 2021 at 12:07
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    @StuartF As much as I hate "slippery slope" arguments, it seems like quite a dangerous precedent that I'm not allowed to wear a particular item of clothing because it makes it more expensive for the state to issue driving offence fines..?
    – Lefty
    Nov 26, 2021 at 13:07
  • Driving in a bus lane is not a crime. Wearing a shirt is not making a false allegation. More likely as Stuart said, it's going to be interfering with the equipment. Nov 26, 2021 at 13:46
  • @Lefty Not much of a slippery slope. Limited versions of such laws already exist in the UK. For example someone who does not or did not serve in the army cannot wear a proper army uniform in public - it is illegal for them to do so.
    – slebetman
    Nov 26, 2021 at 14:40
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    @GregoryCurrie: "Driving in a bus lane is not a crime" - that depends on the local law, surely? In the UK it can be treated as a civil or criminal matter.
    – psmears
    Nov 26, 2021 at 15:24

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