Monday, 10 January 2011

Localism Bill – Enforcement provisions (4)


TIME LIMITS AND PENALTIES

Clause 105 will make certain changes to the time limits within which local planning authorities can start prosecutions for offences under the Planning Acts and in the penalties which the courts can impose upon conviction.

It will amend section 187A(12) of the 1990 Act so that the maximum penalty for failure to comply with a Breach of Condition Notice will be raised from Level 3 to Level 4 on the standard scale (i.e. from £1,000 to £2,500) (except in Wales, where the previous maximum will continue to apply).

It will also amend section 210 of the 1990 Act (except in Wales) so that proceedings for unauthorised works to a protected tree which fall short of destroying it or being likely to destroy it may be brought within the period of 6 months beginning with the date on which evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to justify the proceedings came to the prosecutor’s knowledge, subject to the proviso that proceedings cannot be commenced more than 3 years after the date on which the offence was committed. This seems to set a very dangerous precedent. The offence is actually committed when the unauthorised works to the tree are carried out, and the time limit within which proceedings can be instituted should not depend on the date when the prosecutor (in its own opinion) has gained sufficient evidence to justify the proceedings.

As elsewhere in the Bill, the position is compounded by a provision that, for this purpose, a certificate signed by or on behalf of the prosecutor, stating the date on which evidence sufficient in the prosecutor’s opinion to justify the proceedings came to the prosecutor’s knowledge will be conclusive evidence of that fact. Furthermore, a certificate stating that matter and purporting to be so signed is to be deemed to be so signed unless the contrary is proved. So even if it is only signed by the tea lady, the certificate must be accepted at face value unless the defendant is in a position to prove that it was not duly signed. I think this is monstrous.

Section 224 of the 1990 Act, which deals with the enforcement of advertisement control, will be similarly amended so that 6-month period within which proceedings for an offence of displaying an advertisement in contravention of the Control of Advertisements Regulations may be brought will start from the date on which evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to justify the proceedings came to the prosecutor’s knowledge. This, again, is subject to the 3-year long-stop date, and the conclusiveness of the prosecutor’s certificate (even if it is in fact signed by the tea lady). I can see no excuse for such an illiberal change.

The changes made by Clause 105 will only apply to offences committed after the amendments made by the clause have come into force.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

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