Gladstones Solicitors are a law firm based in Knutsford, Cheshire. They are owned by John Davies and William ‘Will’ Hurley. Gladstones have a significant involvement in the parking industry in that it offers debt recovery and legal services in relation to unpaid private parking charges.
The links, however, are even closer than that since John Davies and Will Hurley also own the International Parking Community (IPC) – one of two Accredited Trade Associations for the parking industry. Membership of the IPC enables dozens of private parking companies to access the DVLAs registered keeper database, without which it would be almost impossible for parking companies to operate. The IPC operate a second stage appeals service, the Independent Appeals Service, that provides motorists an ‘independent’ appeal after the initial stage to the operator is exhausted.
Should parking tickets go unpaid, parking companies will attempt to enforce the charges via a debt recovery firm, or via the county court system. Gladstones Solicitors offer both of these services, frequently to IPC member operators, but also to British Parking Association (BPA) member operators too. Enforcement via the county court system is a phenomenon of the past few years as the private parking industry has realised it is an effective mechanism to generate income, but also to prove to motorists that private parking charges are enforceable.
Historically parking companies avoided enforcement via the county court small claims system since it would not be financially viable to chase debts of £100 or so. However, following ParkingEye’s lead, many companies realised that whilst on a case-by-case basis enforcement in the county court might cost more than they could recover, many consumers will pay up when faced with a Letter Before County Court Claim (LBCCC) or real stamped court papers. As such, overall it is likely a lucrative business.
County Court Enforcement
Gladstones Solicitors operate county court enforcement for many of their members. This includes: Excel, VCS, MET Parking, Link Parking, Euro Parking Services, District Enforcement, Premier Parking Services, Horizon, Armtrac, ES Parking, G24, Park With Ease, Ace Security, Parking Control Management (PCM), and Minster Baywatch – to name but a few! It is widely suspected that Gladstones Solicitors operate a largely automated system for issuing county court claims (sometimes referred to as ‘roboclaims’). It is suspected that operators provide details of the parking charge that are then put into templates and issued by Gladstones. The problem with this is that the letter that lands on motorists doormats does not adequately explain the claimants case to the standard expected by the ‘practice directions’ of the court system. This actually puts the motorist at a significant disadvantage since they have no experience with the court system, and might expect that a regulated solicitors firm is acting appropriately. If the claim is not explained clearly, then a motorist cannot file a meaningful defence in response.
It is not known what Gladstones charge for their services, but each claim has a £50 legal representative cost added onto the original ticket value. Frequently other charges for things such as debt recovery are added to the claim to inflate it as much as possible. When claims go undefended and are awarded by default, these charges are automatically awarded. It is likely that this is a lucrative business for Gladstones.
Should the claim go to hearing (i.e. it is not settled before), then Gladstones will send a representative to the court on behalf of the parking company. The representatives are typically hired for the day, and charge a few hundred pounds for their services – they might not even have right of audience. Since the representative only gets the claim just before the hearing, they have no detailed knowledge of the case and are frequently unprepared. However, given they are legal professionals, they still have a large advantage over a member of the public with no court experience. In the small claims court, legal representation is not usually awarded since that goes against the principle of a small claims court, but its not unusual for the representative to cheekily request their costs anyway. If argued properly, even if the claim is upheld by the court, the inflated charges added on to the claim can be challenged and not awarded.
When ‘roboclaim’ cases do reach a hearing, the nature of the system frequently unravels. Since the claim process is performed as cheaply as possible, when charges are put under scrutiny of a well researched and argued defence, the claims frequently fail. In some cases, the claims fail on a technical legal basis or that the judge finds there was no breach. However, if defences are not well researched, then it is likely that many of these claims succeed anyway given that they have representation of a professional solicitor who can think on their feet better than a member of the public.
If Gladstones make a claim against you that goes to hearing, make sure you question their representative’s right of audience. Often they do not, meaning the case could get struck out before even arguing the case itself! Read more here.
Criticism of Gladstones
Fellow private parking blogger, Parking Prankster, has been a long time critic of Gladstones and the International Parking Community. He frequently blogs on cases that go to hearing where Gladstones have lost. His observation is that Gladstones win irrespective of the outcome of the case – he terms this as the parking company being ‘gladstoned’. In fact Gladstones, the IPC, Will Hurley and John Davies went as far as threatening to sue the prankster for defamation, although this threat has not been followed up.
One key criticism of Gladstones is that there is a potential conflict of interest. Since Gladstones and the IPC are controlled by the same owners, there is a potential conflict of interest in that rejected independent appeals to the IPCs appeal service naturally results in a larger pool of unpaid charges that Gladstones can offer debt collection and county court enforcement services for. To be clear, this is not to suggest that either the IPC or Gladstones have acted improperly, rather that the potential conflict of interest exists.
Fighting a Gladstones claim
If you are faced with a claim from Gladstones, we would recommend you do as much research as much as possible before filing a defence. Under no circumstances should you ignore a county court claim – this will likely result in a default County Court Judgement for the full amount claimed. Even if the claim was to reach court, the inflated add-on costs can be challenged. There is help both on our site, and on the online forums.
Gladstones Solicitors: The Terrace, High Legh Park Golf Club, Warrington Road, High Legh, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6AA
United Trade and Industry Ltd: 41 Greek Street, Stockport, Cheshire, England, SK3 8AX
International Parking Community: PO Box 431, Knutsford WA16 1EP