The Foreign Office has told MPs that the country is owed nearly £90m in outstanding congestion charges by foreign diplomats and dignitaries. It was also revealed that 14 serious and significant offences were committed by those that had diplomatic immunity. Driving without insurance and drink driving were among the most common incidents, and all but two of the 14 offences were motor related.
One count of possession of a firearm and one for the development of malware made up the final list of offences. Councils are also owed more than £300,000 in parking fines, although the government did manage to claw back just over £200,000 in outstanding parking fines following meetings with embassies and the delivery of letters requesting payment or asking that the recipient appeal the decisions if they thought they were unfair.
Driving without insurance typically carries a £300 fine and 6 penalty points if the offence is dealt with by way of a Fixed Penalty Notice. Cases that go to court carry an unlimited fine, and repeat offenders may receive more than 6 points on their licence. Drink driving carries automatic disqualification of at least one year, an unlimited fine, and even up to 6 months’ imprisonment. It is possible to have the disqualification period reduced by taking a driver awareness course, if this option is offered.
Diplomatic immunity means that visiting dignitaries and diplomats are not subject to the same laws in the country that they visit. Only the host country can waive diplomatic immunity, and there is some debate over whether congestion charges and parking tickets are covered by this legislation. A total of 22,000 people have diplomatic immunity, or are considered foreign diplomats, and the Foreign Office has said that the vast majority are law abiding and sensible. However, there is bound to be some criticism from those that live and work in the capital and have been hit by congestion and parking charges themselves.
The US, which owes £9.4m, has said that it is covered under diplomatic immunity, although a number of countries and officials did pay fines when approached by the government. The Greeks, who are currently in economic turmoil, owe £1.3m in congestion charges as well as £49,000 in parking tickets.