Car Wheel clamping notices and signs

Although the era of the wheel clamp is about to exit British life according to certain informed persons, the practice is extant at the time of this writing and the legality or otherwise of any particular act of car wheel clamping notices and signs are always at the forefront of any controversy.

As generations of law students all over the United Kingdom know, the law of contract is highly developed in this country. That is not surprising in the light of so many business and other civil disputes being around and over quarrels about contracts, express and implied.

Essentially, for any contract to be valid in English (and Welsh) law it must compulsorily possess four characteristics:

  • Offer
  • Acceptance
  • Performance
  • Consideration

And all four must be, in the eyes of the law, acceptable in and of themselves.

Therefore, a contract that consists of A offering B the chance of doing an assassination (performance of the contract) for the valuable consideration of £x is not valid. Why? Because the performance is illegal. A consideration that consists of an immoral reward (such as illegal sexual favours) is not legally enforceable.

In the case of car wheel clamping notices and signs, they, in and of themselves, constitute an offer to treat. A motorist who, having seen one of these nevertheless parks where he/she ought not to park is deemed to have accepted the offer and has to pay the charge for the service of having a place to park his vehicle (performance) as advertised in the words of the notice.

There is a fly in the neatness of the ointment here. That is that the vehicle is clamped which naturally prevents the motorist from driving away. Clearly, this clamping can be translated as:

  • Punishment in a context where one citizen punishes another, when the State in its majesty monopolises unto itself the exclusive right to punish.
  • A security for the payment of the consideration (the charge as advertised) of which the motorist was aware on account of the visibility of the notice or sign and his/her implicit agreement to have his vehicle clamped as security until after he coughs up.

This is a thorny legal point in which two powerful legal principles clash, or appear to clash. One is in the law of contract and the other is in criminal law where any person who assumes the right to punish instead of trusting the State to do it is breaking the law. The popular phrase is: ‘Taking the law into his own hands.’

The House of Lords (the law lords that is) has given in recent times two apparently different views about this.

The good news about all of this is that it is likely to be relegated to the mists of legal history because the clamp is probably going to be outlawed by Parliament.