September 24, 2015, by Richard Hyde
ParkingEye v Beavis
Over the summer I had the chance to watch the Supreme Court hearing of the appeal in ParkingEye v Beavis. This could have important implications for consumers caught out by parking fines when parking on private land. The central issue in the case is whether ParkingEye can levy a charge of £85 in circumstances where Mr Beavis overstayed an allowed period of free parking. Two arguments are advanced against the charge. First, that it constitutes a penalty and, second, that the charge contravenes the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations. Before these arguments can be addressed, however, it is necessary to establish that there was a contract between the parties, rather than simply a gratuitous licence. It is important to note that in this case there is no issue that Mr Beavis was aware of the terms. In many parking cases it is this aspect that is important, but here, awareness is admitted.
Watching the case, the difficult contract law questions that underpin the case were clearly troubling their lordships. Whilst the case below proceeded on the assumption that the arrangement between ParkingEye and Beavis was a contract, and the 85 pounds was levied following a breach of the contract, the question of whether ParkingEye and Beavis had a contract was forcefully pressed by their Lordships. In particular, counsel were repeatedly asked what consideration Mr Beavis had given. The reason for this is obvious. If the decision on penalty were to be made on the agreed basis the argument could simply shift to questions of whether to contractual arrangement in future cases are distinguishable from those in Beavis. By adjudicating on the contractual questions it is possible that some of these questions will be foreclosed, although the implications of the contractual arguments are sure to result in close re-examination of terms and conditions by parking operators. What this case demonstrates is the importance of contractual principles even in cases where consumer-focused regulation may assist. Without the pre-requisites being established the consumer law issues become irrelevant, and it is important for both consumer advocates and policy makers to ensure that the regulatory requirements cannot be avoided by the operation of general principles of law.
So what is the answer in ParkingEye? Judgment is expected in the autumn, and it will be interesting to return to the case to assess whether consumer interests were reached in a case involving such important contract law issues. If they are, we will revisit the issue here.