The decision was made by le Conseil Constitutionnel, the highest constitutional authority in France.
The council ruled: “The legislator cannot guarantee or ensure that prior payment does not substantially hinder the right to effective legal redress.”
In practice, this means that drivers who receive parking fines will now be free to contest the fine first, before paying it. This is in contrast to the previous rules of January 1, 2018, which stated that drivers who receive a fine must first pay it regardless of the circumstances - and would only then have the right to contest the fine, and possibly receive a refund if successful.
The council has now ruled that this was unconstitutional, and said that the new law would come into effect immediately, for all existing and future cases that had not yet been judged.
It continued: “In its decision, the Constitutional Council recalls that according to article 16 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, that the right of the persons concerned to exercise an effective appeal before a court of law must not be substantially infringed.”
This means that people must have the right to appeal before punishment.
The decision comes after Jacques Toubon, then in the role of Défenseur des Droits (the Republic’s independent human rights expert), had already recommended in January this year that this law be changed.
He highlighted “the difficulties of imposing such a payment in certain specific situations”, for example, if a driver has been the victim of theft, or of number plate tampering.
The ruling relates specifically to forfaits de post-stationnement fines, which are levied if you do not pay to park in an area of on-street parking where you are meant to pay, or if you overstay in such an area beyond what you paid for.