A fish and chip shop owner from Chelmsford refused to pay an £85 penalty ticket given to him in 2013 by London-based parking company, ParkingEye Ltd. He had exceeded the maximum stay in Riverside Retail Park, Chelmsford, by 56 minutes. There were signs around the car park stating that the maximum stay was two hours, and if any driver did not comply then they would be charged £85 – reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days.
After refusing to pay, Barry Beavis was taken to the County Court to recover the money owed. Beavis then fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court with pro bono representation and funding raised by those who sympathised with his case. His case was, in short, that the charge was unfair because consumer rights law says that a contract term is unfair when the consumer must pay a disproportionately high sum of compensation if the contract is breached.
Lord Neuberger in the Supreme Court used a ‘reasonable motorist test’ and stated that a reasonable motorist would have paid the charge. This has significance for motorists parking in private car parks. The judgment isn’t to say that once a contract has been entered into, a party cannot retrospectively argue that it was unfair. Rather, unlike usual unfair terms, this wasn’t hidden in an obscure place in a lengthy contract. The charge was plainly visible and would be seen by any motorist entering the car park. Therefore, motorists freely entered into the contract knowing these terms which made the terms themselves fair.