From the Sydney Morning Herald Speedcam slip puts $100m fines in doubt By Michael Pelly and Justin Norrie March 23, 2006 THE State Government may be forced to repay drivers up to $100 million in fines after the Roads and Traffic Authority lost a Supreme Court appeal over speed camera photos yesterday. Justice Michael Adams said digital photographs tendered in court against a motorist, Timothy Mitchell, did not contain the markings stipulated by the Road Transport Safety and Traffic Management Act. Mr Mitchell's lawyer, Dennis Miralis, is investigating a class action on behalf of thousands of motorists since digital technology was introduced in 1999. Before the law was amended last year, it said the speed camera photos had to have "security indicators" containing 48 characters of letters and numbers plus "symbols" such as stars or exclamation marks. Any combination is now allowed. But Justice Adams said the speed camera photo issued to Mr Mitchell contained no indicators at all and his $75 fine for driving 21 kmh over the limit on Parramatta Road, Auburn, should not stand. Mr Miralis said this had been happening in "thousands" of cases. Yesterday's decision follows the failure of another appeal by the authority last month, when the Supreme Court said a speed camera fine had wrongly stipulated which lane the motorist was using. The Premier, Morris Iemma, said the Government was considering a further appeal. However, two years ago the Victorian Government was forced to refund or waive fines for almost 165,000 motorists caught by faulty speed cameras, at a cost of $26 million. The Government agreed to repay fines totalling $13.7 million to 90,000 motorists and pay a further $6 million to compensate motorists who lost their licences after being snapped. Mr Miralis said there was no suggestion the photographs had been altered, and that the errors in NSW came down to "a failure to comply with legislation". However, Mr Miralis said that while the authority charged motorists $11 for a copy of the speed camera photo, this copy did not contain any security indicators. It was only by contesting the fine in court that motorists such as Mr Mitchell could find out whether any existed. When the matter was first heard, in Burwood Local Court, the authority relied on a speed camera photo to get a conviction, but Mr Miralis successfully argued the photo was not evidence of what had actually happened. In another case at Hornsby last year, the charge was dismissed after the authority could not provide an expert to prove the camera image was not doctored. "Courts have to be satisfied the picture taken at the time of the offence was the same photograph relied on by the prosecution in court," Mr Miralis said. "The RTA have been going to court … and the courts have been convicting people on photographs which the Supreme Court says are unreliable and cannot be accepted as evidence." Yesterday's decision may cover anyone convicted by a court since the introduction of digital cameras in 1999 until new regulations were passed last year. Those who have not contested the fines in court would have no recourse to compensation. Mr Miralis estimates 10 per cent of people contest speed camera fines. The authority revealed in court that the cameras generated $150 million a year, meaning incorrect security indicators could cost the State Government $100 million. The Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, said he had been assured by the authority that all photographs tended to court contained security indicators. The Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, said the Government should have fixed the problem two years ago: "They simply didn't do their homework." Mr Iemma said the Government would analyse the judgement before deciding whether to lodge an appeal. "All I can say at the moment is that speed kills and speed cameras save lives," he said. A FINE MESS 2004: First speed camera fine overturned because photo did not contain correct markings. Legislation amended. 2005: Roads and Traffic Authority omits markings from photos tendered to court. 2006: Supreme Court says photographs with no markings are inadmissible as evidence.