Mann-O-Mann: The David v Goliath battle to overturn $91.00 parking ticket

In October 2016 Dr Joshua Mann was issued with a $91 parking fine by the Sunshine Coast Council for allegedly “parking on a nature strip, adjacent to a length of road in a built-up area”.

Dr Mann was, (presumably), unimpressed.

Background facts

While visiting his wife, Dr Mann had parked on a grassed area on the Mudjimba esplanade, across from a hotel, after being invited to do so by management of the hotel, because the hotel had no available car parks.

After attempts by Dr Mann to reason with the Council were unsuccessful, Dr Mann decided to contest the fine in the Caloundra Magistrates Court.

Dr Mann represented himself at trial.

The law and evidence

The relevant part of the transport regulation in issue provided that a driver must not stop on a nature strip adjacent to a length of road in a “built-up area”.

The definition of “built-up area” in the regulation provided:

Built-up area, in relation to a length of road, means an area in which either of the following is present for a distance of at least 500m or, if the length of road is shorter than 500m, for the whole road –

  • buildings, not over 100m apart, on land next to the road;
  • street lights not over 100m apart.

The evidence at trial was that the road in question was 1,300m long, and that there were hotel buildings in the area which were less than 100m apart, but that the buildings did not continue for 500m.

The Magistrates Court proceeding

Dr Mann contended that the definition of “built-up area” required that, if a road was longer than 500m, there needed to be buildings not over 100m apart on land adjacent to the road and that the buildings had to continue for at least a 500m length of road.

The Council contended the definition of “built-up area” was satisfied if a road was longer than 500m and there were buildings not over 100m apart, but that the buildings did not need to continue for at least a 500m length of road.

Unfortunately for Dr Mann, whilst the learned Magistrate did accept that the interpretation advanced by him might be “arguably possible”, she preferred the Council’s contention as making better sense of the definition of “built-up area”.

That is, Her Honour read the definition of “built-up” area as follows:

  1. in relation to a length of road of at least 500m, means a length of road in which either buildings or streets lights with the necessary characteristics are present; and
  2. in relation to a length of road which is less than 500m, means an area in which either buildings or streets lights with the necessary characteristics are present for the whole length of the road.

Dr Mann was convicted of the offence under the regulation, fined $91.00 with no conviction recorded, and was ordered to pay Court costs of $92.90 and the Council’s costs of $1,250.

Undeterred, Dr Mann appealed the Magistrate’s decision to the District Court.

Appeal before the District Court

Dr Mann was legally represented before the District Court.

The same contention, advanced by Dr Mann before the Magistrates Court, was advanced on appeal.

The learned Judge, Porter QC DCJ, made the following findings:

  1. The ordinary meaning of the definition of “built-up area” required that “either of the following” (being buildings or street lights) be “present for a distance of” a 500m length of road or, if the road is less than 500m, for the whole road.
  2. The construction advanced by Dr Mann did make sense, because it prevented small areas that weren’t built up, but along roads where lights and buildings were located closely together, being caught up as “built-up areas” attracting an offence under the legislation.
  3. The construction preferred by the learned Magistrate was not the likely intention of the regulation maker, because a long road with even two buildings within 100m would be a “built-up area”, whereas a short road would need buildings for the whole length of the road.
  4. The construction preferred by the learned Magistrate ‘sat awkwardly’ with the use of the definition of “built-up area” in other sections of the regulation.

The decision of Judge Porter, therefore, was that the correct construction of the definition of “built-up area” was as follows:

A “built-up area” in relation to a length of road means an area in which:

  1. Buildings next to the road and not over 100m apart are present and/or street lights not over 100m apart are present; and
  2. Such buildings or street lights are present for a distance of either:
  • A 500m length of road; or
  • If a road is less than 500m, for the whole road.

The result was that Dr Mann’s conviction was set aside and the Council’s complaint dismissed, and the Council was ordered to pay Dr Mann’s costs of the trial and the appeal on the standard basis.

Why is this decision important?

In the civil context, the District Court has remarked that “… there is no requirement in Queensland for proportionality in relation to costs or expense either for the parties or for the community; what matters is whether the plaintiff has a good cause of action or not. A plaintiff who has a good cause of action according to the law in Queensland is entitled to pursue it”.

Following the decision, it has been reported that the Council will look to amending the definition of “built-up area”, although, one wonders why, given that the construction of the definition preferred by Porter QC DCJ is entirely reasonable and logical?

Incidentally, this is not the first time the Council has attracted controversy for issuing parking fines for offences involving “built-up areas”, with the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper in 2016 reporting on 6 fines having been issued by the Council, in a single day, for like offences.

The full decision of the District Court is available here: Mann v Sunshine Coast Regional Council [2017] QDC 277