Local authorities’ duty to bring effect of bye-law to attention of road users

27 Apr 2010

R(Oxfordshire County Council) v The Bus Lane Adjudicator [2010] EWHC 894 (Admin)  Beatson J

Mr Justice Beatson gave judgment yesterday in a test case concerning the enforcement of penalty charges for bus lane contraventions in Oxford’s historic city centre.  The facts of the case concerned a 15 metre stretch of road adjacent to University College in the High Street, which was not marked by any of the familiar upright signs or carriageway markings designed to indicate bus lanes.  The ‘bus gate’ was one of several introduced by the County Council as part of a traffic scheme to reduce traffic congestion in the city centre in April 2007.  According to press reports, the Council collected £1.35m in fines between April 2007 and March 2009.

Mr Justice Blake, in granting permission to apply for Judicial Review of the Bus Lane Adjudicator’s decision to set aside a penalty charge, invited the Traffic Penalty Tribunal to play an active role in defending its decision, instead of the neutral role more commonly adopted by tribunals.  This was done to ensure that the hearing was contested and in the interests of clarifying the law.

The judgment of Mr Justice Beatson has resolved a difficult issue of statutory interpretation as to what constitutes a bus lane.  The relevant section of the High Street was held to be a bus lane.  In addition, the judgment deals with the statutory duty of local authorities to take steps to bring the terms of its traffic bye-laws to the attention of road users.  The Adjudicator had failed to take into account all relevant considerations and the decision was set aside. However, the Adjudicator had also made obiter findings on the issue of whether the Council was in breach of its statutory duty.  The only signs which stated the limited hours of operation of the bus lane were those at the very start of the bus gate.  None of the signs leading up to the bus gate stated the times of its operation.  Mr Justice Beatson agreed with the Adjudicator’s obiter reason for her decision.  The Judge held that the Council’s signs were misleading in giving the impression that the bus lane applied at all times rather than only between the times specified in the Council’s bye-law.  The Judge also refused to grant a declaration sought by the Council that the signs used at the start of the bus gate satisfied the Council’s statutory duty.

Ian Rogers was instructed by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal to appear for the Bus Lane Adjudicator.

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Ian Rogers