With the announcement of Barnet’s decision not to appeal, it is finally the end of a long road for David Attfield and his Judicial Review. Mr Attfield launched a successful challenge against Barnet’s decision to increase parking charges in Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) by up to 400%.
After Mrs Justice Lang DBE gave her judgment David Attfield was feted in the press, with one newspaper calling him the “superhero of the suburbs”. What was the secret of Mr Attfield’s success? Will others be able to follow where he led? I am sure that many local councils will be quaking in their boots following the Judicial Review. Barnet went wrong by using money raised by CPZ charges for other purposes. They budgeted for a surplus, so they could use the surplus for other parts of the traffic management budget. In effect, they were levying a hidden tax against the residents of CPZs. At a time when local authority spending is squeezed, the temptation by other local councils to do a similar thing must be strong.
How did Mr Attfield succeed? First, he was quick off the mark. He took action as soon as the decision to increase the charges was announced. He didn’t wait until the new charges had come in, or until they had started to have a significant impact on householders. That is important because Judicial Review proceedings usually have to be started within three months of a decision having been made.
Secondly, he knew how to get information out of the Council. In the right hands, Freedom of Information requests can be a powerful tool. Get different people to ask similar questions, and you might get some revealing answers. If the response to a request raises further questions, ask those questions. If the Council fails to respond, use their complaints procedure and the Information Commissioner. Even without Freedom of Information requests, council websites often contain a mine of information for those prepared to look for it.
Thirdly, he was organised. Mr Attfield was able to mobilise local outrage at the decision. He helped set up a website www.barnetcpz.blogspot.co.uk
He organised meetings. He raised donations to set up a fighting fund.
Fourthly, he was persistent. In the glow of victory it is easy to forget that Mr Attfield was initially not successful in obtaining permission to take his judicial review. In fact, in the end it was the Court of Appeal who granted permission and allowed the case to go forward.
Of course I also like to think that having an expert legal team, including from Anthony Gold, who believed in his case, was a further factor.
My final thought is for those of you out there who think it might be too late to take a Judicial Review against their council. An unlawful decision remains unlawful even if it is too late to take a Judicial Review. In those circumstances the Local Government Ombudsman might provide a remedy where the courts will not.