Leaving Margate Magistrates court a few weeks ago, I lit up a cigarette and took a wander through the old town, before heading for the car.
Having finished my cigarette, I browsed a few windows and held on to the cigarette end until I found a bin, as is my usual practice. I then hear a man calling, turn around and find that I am being approached by one of Thanet's enforcement officers. He was very polite and explained that he wanted to talk to me about the cigarette end I had just dropped. I could have perhaps played a game with him before literally 'exposing my hand' but immediately replied "do you mean this one" whilst simultaneously opening my hand exposing the cigarette end. He apologised and went on his way.
This could be viewed as a bit of a mistake on his part and no harm was done. It is in reality not so easily dismissed. Before issuing a fixed penalty notice, the Enforcement Officer must satisfy himself that there is sufficient evidence for the matter to go before the court, in the event that the notice was refused or went unpaid. The guidelines issued to councils by the government on the administration of fixed penalty notices for litter offences are quite clear. They require that:
an offence has been committed
an FPN is a proportionate response
there’s evidence to support prosecution if the offender doesn’t pay the fixed penalty
the offender understands why the FPN is being issued
I can only assume that the officer was working under an assumption that all smokers discard their cigarette ends inappropriately and would have been prepared to go to court and give evidence, under oath, that he had seen something happen, that he clearly hadn't. One has to wonder how many of these tickets are issued inappropriately and how many inappropriately issued tickets get paid to avoid the risks of taking the matter to court and risking a criminal conviction.
Another concern that I have seen on social media regards the inadvertent dropping of litter. This is easily done, such as the till receipt that goes flying as you draw your hand from a pocket. What should happen if once your attention has been drawn to the 'deposit' you offer to pick it up?
On looking at the question and answer section on the subject on the Thanet District Council website litter enforcement' page, I find this:
"If I pick up my litter after an officer has approached me do I still get a fine?"
Litter offences relate to the act of dropping litter so whether or not you volunteer to pick this up afterwards you have still committed an offence and will still receive a fine.
The government guidelines are
Don’t issue FPNs for accidental littering, for example if something falls from someone’s pocket.
Only issue FPNs where there is evidence of intent to drop litter.
Give offenders the chance to pick up litter before you issue an FPN. Warn them that you will issue an FPN if they don’t.
The advice that TDC offers the public and presumably the directions given to its enforcement officers are very much at odds with the government guidelines.
Littering is a serious problem and the amount of it on local streets is an abomination. The fixed penalty regime, if exercised properly and in accordance with the guidelines, provides a useful tool for local authorities trying to combat a very real issue. My concern here however, is where the system is abused by those charged with its enforcement. There is only one thing more irritating to me than litter and that is injustice.
Any questions or assistance in respect of this or any other matter, please contact Kent Criminal Law on 01843 799121 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org