Fines based on speed cameras are illegal, says court

Summary

The federal government is working to address a ruling by the Cassation Court that traffic fines based on photo radar alone are not legally enforceable

What now?

The Cassation Court this week has declared all traffic fines handed out on the basis of number plate identification alone unlawful. The ruling has plunged the federal government into confusion, as home affairs minister Jan Jambon admitted that it was unclear how the government would proceed.

According to the court, the problem is that police turn to the national vehicle database, where the names and addresses of all car owners are gathered, to identify the number plates being photographed. That is a breach of privacy laws, the court said.

Fines administered by police who pull the car over and personally identify the driver are, of course, still legal.

The home affairs ministry said it was busy examining the full content of the court’s ruling, but at the moment the impact is not clear. One possibility is that paid fines will be regarded as recognition of guilt, and not affected by the ruling.

Refuted cases that go to court, however, could be reviewed, though no one currently has any idea how many cases are concerned. The ruling has already been ignored by one magistrate in a police court in Leuven, who rejected an appeal from the defence to drop charges against a man caught by speed camera, given the Cassation ruling.

“The importance of road safety weighs proportionally much heavier than any possible breach of the right to privacy,” judge Kathleen Stinckens said.

The federal police have now applied for permission to consult the database for identification purposes, which, when granted, will cover all future cases. The customs service has had such a document for years, as have several other government services and even private companies, such as those that hand out parking fines. But the police have never asked for permission before.