It is illegal for private individuals to stick notices on walls warning drivers not to park in a temporary ‘tow-away zone’ until works are carried out, a court has ruled.

The signs – the bane of frustrated drivers looking for a place to park – may only be placed on site by a government entity and certainly not fixed with masking tape on someone else’s property, the court decided.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea ruled that the signs, which permit the establishment of a tow zone for a limited time, do not conform with the laws on traffic signs and that Transport Malta should have never allowed its administration to be passed on to the persons applying for them.

The notices are currently given out by local councils to individuals who need to make sure the space in front of a property is clear to cater for parking of contractors’ trucks and machinery. The court’s decision will now likely change the way the councils simply issue them against a fee, and they could once again fall under Transport Malta’s responsibility.

The ruling came in a case filed by a lawyer who had his car towed away from Valletta while he was at work.

The Administrative Review Tribunal heard how Reuben Farrugia parked his car in Old Bakery Street one morning in September 2020. When he returned from his office at around 7pm, he found it had been towed.

Tow zone permits were in breach of regulations on the clamping and removal of motor vehicles

The Valletta police station informed him that the Local Enforcement System Agency had towed the car because the parking spot was covered by a tow zone permit issued by the Valletta local council.

He paid the €200 fine to get his car back under protest and instituted court proceedings.

One of his arguments was that the permit was not affixed when he parked his car.

The tribunal ruled that photographic evidence produced in court did not prove the notices were affixed before the car was parked. Moreover, there was no evidence that they had been affixed for 48 hours, as stipulated by law, so the LESA officer could have never ordered the car to be removed.

Aside from this, the magistrate agreed with Farrugia’s argument that the tow zone permits were in breach of regulations on the clamping and removal of motor vehicles.

These define clamping and towing zones as those areas indicated by notices issued by the Police Commissioner or Transport Malta. The regulations specifically contain an image of what towing and clamping traffic signs should look like. This image was different to the ones issued by local councils, which were therefore not in conformity with the regulations, Magistrate Galea ruled.

The court also questioned what control, if any, Transport Malta or the local councils had on the tow zone permits being issued to private individuals to ensure they were properly affixed and in a prominent place where motorists could easily see them.

The tribunal heard how Transport Malta and the Police Commissioner had reached an agreement with the Local Councils’ Association to provide local councils with a template which the council can print, sign and stamp when a no-parking permit is being issued. But the magistrate ruled that Transport Malta did not have the right to transfer this responsibility to local councils.

Even worse, the permit should not be fixed by the person applying but should be placed on site by a government entity since the right to administer traffic signs lies with public authorities and not private individuals.

The magistrate ordered LESA to refund the €200 fine.

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