A recent judgment ruled by the Contentious-Administrative Court of Madrid has condemned the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) to return the driving licence points deducted to a driver to whom the Tax Office had previously annulled a fine for being wrongly notified. In other words, the driver was punished with an economic fine and the deduction of points. The Tax Office processes the economic fine matters; meanwhile the points are a matter whose competence belongs to the Traffic Office. The Contentious-Administrative Court also condemned the DGT to pay the legal costs of the case.
The case was initiated by a claim presented at the Tax Office because the fine of Euro 240 had never been noticed to the driver (in fact it was noticed through edicts without being personally notified as the post certified letter never arrived).
In a first stage, the Madrid Tax Office (AEAT) denied the petition arguing that the DGT had notified the fine through an edictal publication in the Traffic Sanctions Board (TESTRA), because the postal notification had been returned by the postal service "with the indication of absent in delivery hours".
However, the claim filed in the second stage before the Economic-Administrative Court (TEAR) of Madrid (the Court that belongs to the Administration and it is not part of the judicial power, as explained in my previous columns) was accepted because the postal certified letter was sent to an address which was not the one indicated by the driver and, henceforth, the edictal notification was not justified.
Consequently, the TEAR (Economic- Administrative Court) asked the DGT (Traffic Office) of Madrid to return the points, but the latter refused, saying that the annulment of a fine by the Tax Office cannot mean nullifying the deduction of points because such Tax Office (or even the TEAR) does not have "faculties to review the sanctioning competence in traffic matters". As you can see, this is an extremely rigorous and narrow interpretation of the law.
In view of the DGT decision, the petition was reasserted because it did not have sense to nullify an economic fine for illegal notification keeping the detraction of driving licence points. The DGT kept its decision and the case was sent to the Contentious-Administrative Court (the Court that belongs to the judicial power), who finally ruled in favour of the driver.
According to the European Automobile Association one out of every three fine is badly notified. As reported by this association, this is the first judgment in Spain in this regard, which will allow about 10,000 drivers to recover each year the points that, both DGT and City Halls, wrongly deduct by fines wrongly processed. This means that, at least 45,000 drivers each year would be losing points without being warned.
In addition, the said association considers that the Administration "abuses the system of edictal notification", bearing in mind that the Constitutional Court has ruled several times that among the guarantees of the right of defence (article 24 of the Constitution) is included the right be informed of the accusation, whose exercise implies that the citizen must be subpoenaed or duly notified of the fines, because only in this case he will be able to enjoy an effective possibility of defence against the punishment imputed to him.
And more important: it also notes that the edictal notification constitutes a "last remedy of a supplementary and exceptional nature, since no citizen is obliged to read the bulletins daily to see if their names appear in them". In other words: no citizen is enforced to have breakfast reading the official bulletins.