Outstanding fine arrests ‘on rise’

MOTORISTS, particularly in Johannesburg, are being arrested or held illegally for outstanding traffic fines at police roadblocks, says Johan Gresse of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.

Outstanding fine arrests ‘on rise’
Chantelle Benjamin

Johannesburg Metro Editor, Business Day

MOTORISTS, particularly in Johannesburg, are being arrested or held illegally for outstanding traffic fines at police roadblocks, says Johan Gresse of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.

“There has been an increase in the number of arrests for outstanding fines with metro police adopting whatever method they feel fit, like throwing drivers in a bus for hours while the officer continues his work before they are driven to court,” he said.

Gresse has been involved for the past three years with a campaign launched by the Law Society of SA to make the public aware of their rights and to provide them with legal assistance.

Johannesburg’s Metro police are continuing with the arrests despite civil charges being successfully laid against police who fail to follow procedure when arresting drivers at roadblocks.

This is illegal, according to motor law expert Don Smart, who deals with about 1300 complaints of this nature a year.

“The Johannesburg Metro police blatantly ignore the law and the constitution, they do not follow proper summons and warrant procedures.”

Although it is theoretically possible to be arrested at a roadblock for an outstanding traffic ticket, authorities have to follow all correct legal procedures, Smart said.

Johannesburg Metro spokesman Chief Supt Wayne Minnaar said yesterday that electronic warrants were accepted by the Criminal Procedure Act.

“People are under the impression that we need to produce an original warrant but we do not. We live in the electronic age and we use the technology.”

The Criminal Procedure Act allows for a telegraphic or similarly written or printed communication from a magistrate or peace officer stating that a warrant has been issued.

Minnaar said electronic warrants “have the person’s identity number, where the offence was committed and when, everything required of the warrant”.

A recent hoax e-mail purporting to come from the Law Society of SA wrongly advised drivers to resist arrest at roadblocks. This had created problems, the Law Society said.

Smart warned drivers not to resist arrest but to pay the fine and sort out legal matters later.

He said drivers had the right to ask for a copy of the warrant. If one is not provided, the arrest and subsequent detention is illegal even if it turns out to be a valid warrant.

Drivers can only be arrested for what is commonly called an outstanding traffic fine when they have failed to appear in court on a summons or a written notice.

Arrested persons must be brought to the place stipulated in the warrant or a South African Police Services — not Metro — police station as soon as possible after the arrest. Nor can motorists be held in a traffic vehicle, bus, office or similar place of detention while traffic officials carry on with other duties.

A text message obtained by a policeman accessing information of unpaid fines or outstanding warrants was not acceptable, said Smart.

“The data transmission must come from an authorised official, stating that there is a warrant for arrest,” he said.

To meet the requirements of the constitution, the warrant also has to give adequate details of the reason for the arrest and stating when and where the offence occurred, he said.

Smart said a motorist had the right to legal representation, a fair trial, and also not to be compelled to make an admission.

“Most people fear being locked in jail and virtually all who have money readily available pay the admission of guilt fine under duress,” he said.

Gresse said police were no longer holding roadblocks and arresting motorists the night before weekends or public holidays.

Minnaar, however, said that metro police would continue to arrest people at roadblocks on weekends.

“We will continue to arrest people on Saturday and Sunday because there is no law that says you cannot.”

Minnaar admitted that drivers were sometimes held in vehicles for a few hours, but said they did try to get people to a police station “as soon as possible”.

“Keep detailed notes on everything that takes place when you are arrested, such as all procedures followed, times, places where you were taken or detained, how long you were detained and where possible the names of the officials.”

Meanwhile, Johannesburg Metro police launched an operation last week to arrest thousands of traffic offenders in the city who have outstanding warrants of arrest.

The two-week operation was launched because the city was owned R280m in outstanding traffic fines, according to Minnaar.

The warrants are issued directly from a court and police have already made house and work calls, arresting 550 people.

An executive with 102 warrants against him amounting to R106000 was one of the targets.

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