The collection of spot fines from motorists by the police and the impounding of their vehicles if they fail to pay up is illegal and must be stopped forthwith, a High Court Judge has said.
Officially opening the 2015 Masvingo High Court Legal Year yesterday, Justice Francis Bere said there was neither a legal framework nor any law which either compelled a motorist to pay a spot fine or which empowered police to impound someone’s vehicle.
He said Section 356 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9:07), which is often cited on the matter, did not give police officers powers to force a motorist to pay a spot fine.
Justice Bere said spot fines and their retention by the police needed to be clarified as the matter has caused a lot of debate.
“It has been reported extensively in the media that these collections by the police are meant to meet the force’s pressing operational needs,’’ he said.
“I fully understand the predicament the Home Affairs Ministry finds itself in, but it occurs to me that currently there is no legal framework justifying the manner in which these collections are being done.
“There is no law which compels a motorist to deposit a fine with the police if he desires to challenge the alleged offence, but it looks like the motorists are being forced to pay these fines on our public roads irrespective of their attitude to the charges.
“Any attempt to refuse to pay is met by threats to have the vehicle impounded by the police.’’
Justice Bere decried the continuous flouting of legislation that governs the collection and retention of spot fines, a development he said was affecting the force’s ability to fully execute its core business.
“The Section (356 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, Chapter 9:07) compels the police to forthwith transmit all the documentation to do with the payment of spot fines to the court for confirmation by a magistrate,” he said.
“All these provisions of the law are being flouted, with everyone watching helplessly whilst this illegality continues. There may be no problems with the police operating as an extension of Treasury, but if that is what is desired, then the legal framework must be put in place to support such kind of a development.’’
Justice Bere said the police were “cursed” if it was true that the force was superintending co-ordinate collection of “security fees” to give commuter omnibus drivers free passage at roadblocks.
“Quite often, one hears of more illegal collections which are being made by the police,” he said.
“There is talk of well co-ordinated collections of security fees on our public roads, particularly from commuter omnibuses, which fees are meant to give commuters free and unhindered passage at police roadblocks.
“If this is true, then the department (police) is surely cursed. How can a nation continue to condone such malpractices which create a breeding ground for corrupt tendencies?
“We talk of determination for the need to rid this country of corruption. How can we achieve this when we allow our police officers to conduct themselves in such a corrupt manner? My view is that all these issues must be seriously looked at and corrective action be taken without further delays.”
Justice Bere said it was crucial for the police to jealously guard its repution as an international brand by fully and fairly playing its role in the justice delivery system.
Turning to the contentious issue of the death penalty, Justice Bere said there was urgent need to align certain laws with the provisions of the new Constitution to avoid confusion.
He said some High Court judges strongly believed that there should be no imposition of the death penalty at the moment until a new law that defines aggravating circumstances was created.
During the circuit of the High Court in Masvingo, Justice Bere will hear 11 murder cases.