But tax authorities have since revealed they are considering appealing these decisions, which is no surprise given the amounts reportedly at stake for the state’s depleted coffers.
However, only disputes over values of above 1,250 euros can be taken to a higher court, with those in excess of 30,000 euros being heard by the Supreme Administrative Court.
The main justification for the Braga Court to rule in favour of motorists was that the fines were issued to the owners of the offending vehicles, and not necessarily their drivers.
The cameras fitted on overhead gantries on motorways such as the Algarve’s A22 only capture images of the car’s licence plate and not the driver.
As a result, lawyers have argued, and successfully, that the owner of the vehicle is not necessarily the transgressor and he should be allowed to prove his innocence, which has not happened since tax authorities took over the collection of unpaid tolls back in 2012.
The João Magalhães law office in Braga has also claimed that this lapse, along with tax authorities’ alleged failure to follow the basic rules of fiscal offences as is stipulated by the Regime Geral das Infracções Tributárias (RGIT), should result in all fines issued to date being declared illegal.
João Magalhães is also planning on supporting a claim lodged on behalf of hundreds of motorists calling for the annulment of all fines issued for overdue tolls.
The office says it is currently dealing with 800 cases of people contesting fines.
Pedro Marinho Falcão, another lawyer who was also victorious in Braga this week with a claim, revealed that he has a further 200 cases lodged with the court, representing a total value in fines of more than 100,000 euros.
Legal battles being fought in court rooms across the country are now set to soar, with this latest news of the taxman suffering the unusual fate of being on the losing side. The Association of Portuguese Consumer Rights has joined in the battle and said it was planning to file an injunction next week against the manner in which fines were being issued, and the astronomical values they were reaching when unpaid tolls amount only to a few euros.
Workers at tax offices are not happy either, with the Union for Tax Workers not only contesting the values they are being asked to collect from taxpayers, but are also acting as debt collectors for private entities.
“This is highly controversial and places a question mark over how the state should function”, Union leader Paulo Ralha was quoted as saying.
In a week which has been particularly rough for electronic tolls, Portugal’s national road chief decided to term the e-toll system a “mistake”.
António Ramalho, who has now also taken over as chief of national rail company Refer in conjunction with the position he already held at road company Estradas de Portugal, called for a “new model” to be found to collect tolls on previously unpaid motorways.
“Ten years ago, Portugal boasted the best toll system in the world – Via Verde”, he said, but added “the new gantry system contradicts the Via Verde system and destructive from a marketing point of view.”
Ramalho added that there are currently “huge concerns in finding a new model, but we are not going to make a mistake just because we are in hurry and end up choosing the wrong model.”