An Auckland motorist has been left stunned after being stung with a $40 parking fine more than a decade after the alleged offence.
When Kevin Longley contacted the Ministry of Justice to query the offence he was told that
officials had been instructed to launch a blitz on historic unpaid tickets – because staff were not busy during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The Automobile Association has criticised the government department’s “money grubbing” tactics – and is calling for historic fines to be waived instead.
However, the Ministry of Justice says fines never expire and it is normal practice to pursue them.
Longley told the Herald he had no idea he had an unpaid parking ticket until he received a “threatening” court letter this month and subsequently phoned the Ministry of Justice helpline.
“It’s money-making at the expense of common sense,” he said.
“I’m laughing at them because how desperate do these bureaucratic money grubbers have to be?.”
Longley said an apologetic Ministry of Justice staff member told him his parking offence happened 11 years ago and that she had even older tickets she was also chasing up.
“Due to the quiet period during Covid, the powers that be decided to put staff on to tracking down historical fines,” Longley said he was told.
He could not understand why officials had not been able to track him down earlier.
While he had changed his address in the past decade, he still lived in Auckland – and he is still the registered owner of the 1962 VW Karmann Ghia that was ticketed.
“What annoys me is they couldn’t be bothered to chase me up and yet my car has been registered in my name for over 30 years – so how hard would it have been to find where I live?.”
His $40 fine, which he has now paid, comes as Auckland Council has reported a $750 million budget blow out due to Covid-19’s economic fallout and the added costs of meeting the city’s water shortage.
Longley said he first feared that the council had got into such a “financial mess” it was on the hunt for money.
However, an Auckland Transport spokesman said they were not responsible for Longley’s fine, which was out of the agency’s “hands”.
That was because 56 days after a parking ticket was issued, AT handed the matter over to a private debt collector, which in turn handed any still unpaid fines on to the Ministry of Justice to collect, the spokesman said.
When contacted by the Herald the ministry did not respond to the suggestion that staff downtime during lockdowns was the reason for the blitz on unpaid tickets.
“Fines never go away or expire due to elapsed time,” Ministry of Justice official Brett Dooley said.
When councils, police and other government bodies issued fines for infringements, such as speeding, illegal parking or failing to register a dog, the fee was transferred to the court for collection.
The court then used “multiple avenues” to find updated details for people with unpaid fines, Dooley said.
Specialist traffic lawyer Alistair Haskett said it was not unheard of for the wheels of justice to take so long to creak into action.
He was aware of drink-driving cases in which police had failed to serve a summons to a person wanted on charges.
That person, not knowing they faced charges, may then have been living overseas and been able to travel in and out the country without being picked up at the airport on a warrant.
“Then 10-plus years later and there ends up being a trial over it, so that sort of thing can happen,” he said.
Haskett said a person in Longley’s position could make an application for a court rehearing by proving they did not receive the parking infringement notices through no fault of their own.
If successful they might also be able to contest the ticket, though Haskett questioned if the effort would be worth it.
Automobile Association: It's 'money grubbing'
Automobile Association spokesman Mark Stockdale said Longley should never have been stung with a ticket more than 10 years later because it was not fair.
“The principle of timeliness should apply, the fact is you are not going to remember so long ago,” he said.
Timely tickets had a deterrent effect by forcing people to reflect on when they may have used a bus lane when they should not have or how they stayed too long in a parking space.
But tickets enforced more than a decade later ran the risk of creating the perception that councils and government departments were simply “money grubbing”.
Historic fines should be wiped from the records if they were for a small sum because chasing them was likely more expensive than the fine, Stockdale said.
“What they should be doing if they wanted to give staff something to do during a quiet week is to have them take these penalties off the books.”
A similar case to Longley’s took place in Marlborough this month when the Ministry of Justice contacted a motorist seeking payment for a $12 parking fine dating back to 2012.
However, Marlborough District Council subsequently reviewed the case and agreed to cancel that fine.
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