Canberra drivers have paid tens of thousands of dollars in speeding fines, had licences suspended and offences recorded against their driving record despite the ACT government admitting to a mistake in its internal processes.
Advice issued to ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, and obtained by The Canberra Times under freedom of information, has revealed that 623 drivers were caught up in the debacle in February and March last year, in which traffic camera software was affected by a major technical glitch.
"A decision was made by the Access Canberra Infringement team at the time to not withdraw and reissue the infringement notices," the advice stated.
"The decision to not withdraw notices ... was unfortunately incorrect."
The admission offers cold comfort to those who were caught up in the farce and paid up, or even worse had their licences suspended through accumulated demerits. Any driver who accumulates 12 or more demerit points faces an automatic three-month licence suspension.
The latest available advice indicates that 361 of the legally invalid infringements either have been paid in full or via a payment plan, 109 have been withdrawn for various reasons, and 123 are "yet to be resolved".
"In hindsight, the infringement notices should have been withdrawn and reissued at the time with the correct date of the offence," an internal directorate memo to David Pryce, the deputy director-general of Access Canberra, stated.
The documents reveal the directorate feared "a reputational and legal risk to the Road Traffic Authority" should the validity of the infringements be legally challenged.
However, this is exactly what transpired when a retired former engineer from Braidwood, Dennis Levy, decided to have his day in the ACT Magistrates Court.
Earlier this year when summonsed to appear before Magistrate James Lawton, Mr Levy pleaded not guilty to the speeding offence and argued that the Road Traffic Authority's steadfast refusal to withdraw and reissue the infringement he received within the stipulated 28-day period made it invalid.
After taking several weeks to consider, Magistrate Lawton agreed, finding in favour of Mr Levy.
This in turn has opened the gate to further potential legal challenges.
In his judgment, Magistrate Lawton said that in continuing with the defective notice, "they [the Road Traffic Authority] are effectively forcing the responsible person to face prosecution or pay an infringement notice for an offence that did not occur".
The systems error and the legal embarrassment which followed has cast a lengthy shadow of doubt over public confidence in speed cameras, according to the NRMA.
The NRMA has repeatedly called for a shutdown and audit of the ACT traffic cameras, and for the results of that audit to be made public.
Confidence in the network was further eroded on May 1 this year when Access Canberra upgraded its website and the same error reoccurred, in which the infringement notices did not match the traffic camera images.
"This was an isolated website-migration-related issue," the directorate stated.
In last year's botch-up, Access Canberra sent letters out to all drivers who received infringements during the 16-day error period stating: "Despite the date error contained within the infringement notice, Access Canberra considers that the notice is legally valid and enforceable."
It also urged people to respond within 28 days.
When recipients like Mr Levy did respond, the authority failed to acknowledge within the stipulated 28 days, which legally invalidated the speeding infringement.
"This case revealed the ACT government just doesn't give a damn about due process," Mr Levy said.
"As the public long suspected, it uses its speeding cameras as revenue raisers under the disguise of road safety. And when it is challenged, it tries to bully and steamroll over ordinary people."
In a lengthy and technical explanation to the government, camera provider Sensys Gatso confirmed its software failed to "recognise" the additional day in the 2020 leap year, February 29. So when no infringements appeared in the automatic queue, the alarm bells started ringing - but the problem was not fixed for more than two weeks.
Access Canberra's David Pryce, a former senior police officer, wrote to Gatso saying he shared the "disappointment about this system error and the impact that this has caused to the credibility and reputation of the infringement scheme in the ACT".
Three options were presented by the directorate to Mr Pryce on how to manage the issue, including an option to withdraw all the outstanding notices. He chose not to do so.
In an email from the head of regulatory compliance, David Snowden, to Mr Pryce, he stated that Transport Canberra and City Services "are [sic] concerned about the road safety messaging any withdrawal of these notices sends".
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