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Spot fines and the law of impounding of vehicles - A legal article by experts

12 Sep 2016 at 19:47hrs | Views
Most people are now aware of the impending increases in traffic fines recently announced by the Minister of Finance. We will not delve into the controversies surrounding that as that has been well enunciated elsewhere.

For the next few weeks, we will address this very thorny issue.

We will discuss the legalities of the threats and actual acts of impounding vehicles over failure or refusal to pay spot fines. However are the police allowed to impound vehicles? When can they do that and should they even do it? What we do find extremely worrisome and must comment on is the big concern about the effect of the intended increase in police bribery and corruption. The fact that the concern over police corruption eclipses that of affordability or the justice of the increase is worrisome.

It portrays an underlying attitude of distrust and anger that people generally harbour against the police. It is worrying for a nation when even school children hold lively debates on topics such as police corruption, bribery, road blocks and police brutality. Police corruption real, imagined or exaggerated has become such an institution and a talking point. We cannot talk to the police without talking about corruption at the same time. That is alarming but we have somehow become very comfortable with the association even if we do not like it. When exactly is somebody in charge going to sit up and admit that something is wrong and actually do something visible about changing that perception? It is wrong for the police force of a nation to be perceived so negatively even by toddlers. The difference between criminals and the police should be clearly demarcated because there is a vast difference.

Did he just threaten to take my car?
Traffic fines for most minor offences will be increased from $20.00 to $100.00. The fact is even the best of us who ordinarily try to obey road rules fall foul of the law at some time often for momentary errors in judgment. For example, just when you realise the amber light has turned red while you are in the middle of the intersection and enthusiastic traffic officer jumps ups excitedly from his hiding spot in a ‘gotcha' moment. You dutifully pull over and he dutifully tells you your offence and will demand $100.00 hard cash on the spot. $20.00 was hard enough but now a whole $100.00! You can barely remember its colour let alone the last month you saw one in your wallet. You haggle it out with him for thirty minutes. Maybe you do not even admit the offence and you have a right not to be forced to admitting it. You insist that he should issue you a ticket so you can appear in court to defend yourself but in his excitement and obstinacy he refuses. Even if you wanted to pay the fine you simply do not have the money. It goes on for many more minutes before he says those words you've been dreading to hear. He is going to impound your car until you pay.

Is it even legal?
Impounding cars and threats to do so is the police's most effective bargaining chip. However putting it plainly this is not allowed. The police cannot impound your vehicle just because you cannot or have refused to pay a spot fine. This was well enunciated in the March 2015 case of Njabuliso Mguni v Minister of Home Affairs & Others. In this case, the police had impounded the car for a number of offences which the driver admitted. However, he had no money to pay and the police predictably impounded his car. It's impossible to tell whether this is meant as punishment for not having money or as security for the fine. The judge roundly declared this conduct to be unlawful and ordered the immediate release of the car. That is the law, therefore, the police have no right whatsoever to threaten to impound or to actually impound your car for your failure or refusal to pay a spot fine.

Next week will examine Babbage vs The State judgement in detail. It clearly enunciates the law on this issue.

Miriam Tose Majome a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on enquiries@legalpractitioners.org

Source - Miriam Tose Majome @ facebook
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