MOTORISTS will be in line for a multi-million pound windfall if a landmark bus gate challenge goes ahead, according to a CCTV expert who claims that most traffic enforcement cameras are flouting data protection law.
Paul Mackie, the Scotland-based compliance director for independent consultancy CameraWatch, said a court case due to be heard in Glasgow later this month could open the floodgates for thousands of motorists throughout the UK to challenge the legality of fines issued by everything from bus lane cameras to average speed cameras.
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The case, being brought by Livingston couple Geoffrey and Dawn Bonelle, hinges on signage for a controversial bus gate at Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow. The couple refused to pay a £60 fine when their family car was snapped entering the restricted zone in October 2014 because they insist the signage was obscured.
However, after a year-long battle which almost culminated in their car being seized by debt collectors days before Christmas last year they eventually paid their debt - by then £274 - and are now seeking to recoup the cash via the small claims court at Glasgow Sheriff Court.
Mr Mackie, who advises private and public organisations across the UK and overseas on surveillance law, approached the couple after reading about their case in the Herald and has urged them to challenge the legality of the fine on data protection grounds.
He said that, under the terms of the Data Protection Act, as with all CCTV which captures members of the public, where traffic cameras are in place there must be also CCTV notices telling motorists who is collecting their personal data on them, such as faces and number plates, what it is being used for - for example, traffic enforcement - and a contact number where they can request details of the information held on them.
As no such sign information is present at Nelson Mandela Place, Mr Mackie said the evidence used to fine the Bonelles - and any other driver caught at the site - is illegal.
"This is like a bowling ball rolling towards the pins, and it could be a very major problem for Glasgow City Council," said Mr Mackie, who stressed that he was an advocate of CCTV when used correctly.
He added: "From my point of view, I hope they see the threat of the Bonelles' case as a wake-up call so that they finally fix their compliance issues. That way no motorist will ever have the chance to turn round again and call foul.
"Glasgow and Edinburgh could set a gold standard for everyone else. That's what I would like to see. This is not about CCTV being bad. It's about saying that, where used, it must comply with the law, and at the moment we're not doing that."
However, council chiefs are adamant that the signage is entirely legal.
The Nelson Mandela Place bus gate was activated in June 2014 and earned the council around £1.3 million in penalty charges during its first year of operation.
The Bonelles' case could open the door for thousands of motorists to try to claw back fines from other non-compliant bus lane cameras. The devices generate millions of pounds a year not only for Glasgow City Council, but also for local authorities in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and dozens of cities across the UK.
The same shortcomings are also likely to be found with the surveillance systems used for average speed cameras, parking enforcement and yellow box junctions, said Mr Mackie. He added that most authorities are oblivious to the data protection rules surrounding surveillance, but get away with it because drivers rarely contest them in court. The Bonelles' case would be the first of its kind in the UK to seek to overturn a bus lane fine on the basis of data protection breaches.
However, Glasgow City Council previously indicated that it will seek to have the case thrown out by challenging the jurisdiction of the court. The hearing is scheduled for May 20.
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “The signage for our bus lane cameras is fully compliant with the relevant legislation.”