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  • Commissioner “donuts” his speed camera verdicts

    Posted on September 24th, 2009 admin No comments
    Is this the only hope for a successful Tribunal appeal

    Is this the only hope for a successful Tribunal appeal?

    We all know that “Nobody likes a smarta**e” so I will have to be careful as I write the rest of this post but I cannot help myself but say “I told you so”.

    The subject in question is speed cameras – a vexed topic – that has since the introduction of the Act seen speed camera partnerships anxious to limit the information people could find out about how they operated.

    Central to the argument was the fact authorities clung to the life raft that they called “site-specific” data. This meant that if you asked a question about one specific site you wouldn’t get an answer as it was claimed that this was covered by S.31 (law enforcement) and S.38 (health and safety).

    This approach was seemingly backed up by a case I lost against South Yorkshire Police [FS50086169] and Hemsley v Information Commissioner at the Information Tribunal.

    But that blanket ban to site-specific data first sprung a leak in Bucks Free Press v Information Commissioner and has now been blown out of the water by a recent decision by the Information Commissioner v Essex Police [FS50222048].

    The applicant had asked for how many speeding tickets were issued annually as a result of a camera position on the M11 southbound in Woodford, Essex, just where the carriageway goes from three lanes to two. It has long been suggested that this camera is the busiest in the whole of the UK, but because people could not find out the statistics nobody knows for sure – yet.

    Essex Police refused the request arguing S.31 and S.38. It, along with other forces, would claim the release of data might make people more likely to speed if they could make an informed guess at whether a camera was likely to be operational – and that this could lead to an increase in speeding and a resultant rise in accidents.

    When the case went to appeal I imagine Essex Police thought the case was pretty watertight considering the rulings that had gone in the past. However, obviously anxious to move in favour of the Tribunal’s position in the Bucks Free Press case the Commissioner has done a 180 degree turn from the South Yorkshire Police case and come out in favour of releasing the information. So I was right all along then!

    The Commissioner said in his ruling: “The conclusion of the Commissioner is that the likelihood of prejudice to the prevention or detection of crime through disclosure of the information in question is not real and significant. The exemption provided by section 31(1)(a) is not, therefore, engaged. This conclusion is based on the observations of the Tribunal in Bucks Free Press, the lack of convincing argument from the public authority that the line taken by the Tribunal in that case should not be followed here, or any suggestion based on the content of the information in question that this would reveal an enforcement pattern likely to influence drivers’ behaviour in a manner prejudicial to the prevention of crime.”

    On the subject of S.38 he said: “The next step is to consider whether there is a real and significant likelihood of drivers increasing, or failing to reduce, their speed at the location specified in the request as a result of disclosure of the information requested by the complainant. On this point the analysis and conclusion of the Commissioner are the same as set out above in connection with section 31(1)(a); as the Commissioner does not accept that the information in question reveals any pattern of enforcement that would be likely to influence drivers to believe the camera was not active on any given date, neither does the Commissioner believe that the likelihood of endangerment to health and safety resulting through disclosure is real and significant. The exemption provided by section 38(1)(a) and (b) is not, therefore, engaged.”

    As the Commissioner ruled neither exemption was engaged he did not even go on to consider if the public interest applied in the case.

    One thing I found puzzling was no mention was made of vandalism to speed cameras. I have come in for some criticism after articles I have written about speed cameras have seemed to be the spur for attacks on cameras. However, this point was not brought out by Essex police but if somebody torches the M11 camera soon expect an appeal to be lodged at the Tribunal.

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