LEGAL think-tank Veritas says it is illegal for police to demand spot fines from offending motorists as they will be violating provisions of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
In its latest Bill Watch publication, Veritas said spot fines were in contravention of section 141 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which allows police to issue written notices to petty offenders and order motorists to pay a fine or appear in court, but does not stipulate spot fines.
Last week, the issue of spot fines sparked heated debate in Parliament, with some legislators arguing that spot fines promoted corruption within the traffic police force.
But Home Affairs deputy minister Ruth Mavhunga-Maboyi said it was government policy for traffic offenders to pay spot fines at police checkpoints, adding that motorists could negotiate payment terms if they did not have cash at hand.
But Veritas said section 141 did not authorise police officers to demand payment of fines on the spot, whether in cash or electronically.
“Motorists must be given the option of paying their fines later, if they admit their guilt, or of appearing in court to contest the matter if they do not. Of course, the section does not prohibit police officers from inviting motorists to pay their fines on the spot, and if they do pay their fines immediately it can save trouble all round. If payment is made, the police should issue a receipt,” it said.
“But the law does not allow police officers to compel motorists to pay. If they use coercion to induce payment, they will be acting illegally and may be liable to prosecution for extortion under section 134 of the Criminal Law (Code), a crime which carries a 15-year prison sentence.”
In 2012, Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Maphios Cheda ruled that motorists should be issued with tickets and given a reasonable time within which to pay, unless they voluntarily chose to pay the fines immediately.
In 2017, another High Court judge Justice Esther Muremba awarded damages to a motorist who was detained at a roadblock for over an hour because he could not pay a fine and ruled that it was illegal for police officers to force motorists to pay spot fines at roadblocks.
Veritas added: “In light of the law, which is perfectly clear, and the judicial pronouncements we have cited, which are definite and unanimous, it is shocking that the police continue to demand payment of traffic fines immediately rather than issuing motorists with traffic tickets and giving them the option of paying immediately or later.
“It is also disturbing that the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, when asked to explain the conduct of the police, was unable to provide the National Assembly with a correct statement of the law.”