The Sydney Morning Herald  Wednesday 17 November 2004
Letter of the law puts speedcam fines in doubt

By Les Kennedy and Joseph Kerr

The camera doesn't lie: the driver was caught speeding at 121kmh in the Harbour Tunnel. But a few missing symbols - as mundane as an asterisk - saved him.

In a finding that raises questions about the validity of thousands of speeding camera tickets, the Roads and Traffic Authority lost a case against the speeding driver this week. The security code on the incriminating photograph included 48 characters of letters and numbers - but the law says it must also carry "symbols". Perhaps a star or an exclamation mark or a hash or an asterisk.

So serious is the flaw that the Roads Minister, Carl Scully, signed urgent regulatory changes last night to sew up the embarrassing loophole. He plans to rush them through today to head off appeals by motorists wanting to use the ruling to dodge fines.

Nevertheless, until now the RTA's speedcam photos have used only letters and numbers on the security codes - and lawyers say this technicality may cast doubt over any driving conviction that relied on the photo evidence.

The lawyer Dennis Miralis discovered the loophole on Monday as he pored over the Road Transport Act, while trying to defend a client who faced three months' disqualification and a $565 fine. The 36-year-old man, an industrial conciliation adviser, was caught travelling at 41kmh over the 80kmh limit in the tunnel at 2.12pm on February 24.

Mr Miralis, of the Darlinghurst firm Nyman, Gibson and Stewart, discovered section 47 (2) (c) of the Act, dealing with "security indicators". It spells out that speedcam photos must display the 48-character code comprising "letters, numbers and symbols".

He could see no symbols, and, on this basis, in the Downing Centre Local Court, the magistrate, Margaret Quinn, found the photo was not legally admissible.

If a motorist wants to challenge a speedcam fine, they can pay $11 for a copy of the RTA photo that caught them. But this does not reveal the security code. Only when they go to court does the code emerge.

Mr Scully said last night: "This particular driver did not dispute that he drove 41 kilometres over the speed limit ... that it was his vehicle photographed ... or the accuracy of the camera. The only thing was a very technical interpretation of the regulations."

The minister said: "I've just signed a new regulation which I will have presented to the Governor in executive council tomorrow morning. [The new regulations] will be published in a special Government gazette we'll be issuing tomorrow afternoon to ensure no more interpretations like that will be given by magistrates."

It would make it "abundantly clear" that the code could be any combination of letters, numbers or symbols. Mr Scully cautioned drivers against a rush of appeals, and directed the RTA to ask police to lodge an appeal. He believed the magistrate had erred in law, saying: "There was no evidence that the photograph had been tampered [with]." But Phillip Gibson, from the law firm involved, said there may be "thousands of cases" in which people have paid fines or been disqualified from driving on flawed evidence.

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