JOHANNESBURG – Draft regulations in respect of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Amendment Act are inconsistent with the Constitution and are likely to result in further legal challenges. This is according to Justice Project South Africa Chair, Howard Dembovsky.
“The draft regulations provide a more complete picture which should have been available during the public consultation phases,” Dembovsky said. “But they go far beyond merely amending the existing regulations – they repeal all the existing regulations and create an entirely new set of regulations,” he said.
“The ‘consultations’ held by the national and provincial legislatures when the AARTO Amendment Bill was being discussed centred only on the Act,” he continued. “But the draft regulations comprise over a hundred pages with scores of new provisions,” he commented.
Although an Act is passed by Parliament, regulations may be made by the Minister without the scrutiny of the legislature. Dembovsky said that this practice was flawed and allowed regulation without Parliamentary oversight.
The foundations of the AARTO Act itself are already set to face a constitutional challenge brought by Dembovsky in April 2018. That matter is to be heard in the Pretoria High Court in early 2020 and is largely unaffected by the AARTO Amendment Act, which is likely to face its own legal challenges.
“At a first reading, the regulations appear to have been rushed to completion and leave many details to the discretion of functionaries and institutions instead of providing clarity on exactly how the processes outlined in the AARTO Amendment Act are to function,” Dembovsky explained. “In particular, the regulations virtually ensure that road users seeking to challenge infringement notices will be confronted with onerous bureaucratic hurdles.”
Dembovsky urged members of the public, and especially legal professionals, to scrutinise the draft regulations, and to submit their comments, objections and suggested amendments before the 10 November deadline.
“In JPSA’s view, a comment period of 30 days is far too short to allow thorough public scrutiny of a complete re-write of regulations pertaining to the recent extensive re-write of the AARTO Act,” he said. “Notwithstanding our encouragement to the public to submit their comments, we believe that the comment period should be extended substantially and call on the Department of Transport to do so,” he concluded.
Road Traffic Infringement Agency company secretary Mcedisi Bilikwana (left) and registrar Japh Chuwe (right). Photo: Keitumetse Maako
“The recently amended Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act is merely meant to promote road safety and nothing else, contrary to reports which allege it would bully motorists into paying their e-toll bills”.
So said the Road traffic Infringement Agency’s (RTIA’s) Registrar, Japhtha (Japh) Chuwe at a media briefing held by the National Press Club in Pretoria, on 19 September 2019.
He reportedly went on to say that the “new” law was not intended for the alleged purpose and that “this misleading information is disingenuous.”
To lend weight to his musings, Chuwe referred to the publication for comment of draft amended regulations to the AARTO Regulations, published in Government Gazette 39482 of 7 December 2015. As he correctly pointed out, therein it was proposed that the single demerit-point applicable to drivers of vehicles for which a Professional Driving Permit (PrDP) is required be removed, but the R500 penalty remain.
That amendment has still not been enacted, almost four years after it was published for public comment.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that all good propaganda has a foundation in truth. Get a charming, eloquent individual to convey that propaganda, and you can almost certainly convince many people that the world is flat.
There’s no denying that Chuwe is a charming and eloquent individual. He comes across as extremely knowledgeable and genuine, and is an exceptionally talented spin doctor.
However, what Mr Chuwe fails to mention is that the identical Government Gazette also proposed a new AARTO infringement notice form.
The form that proves that the AARTO Act IS about enforcing e-tolls compliance
Called the AARTO 03e “infringement notice [in respect of] multiple camera or electronically captured infringements”, this form seeks to incorporate twenty-five such infringements on a single infringement notice, as opposed to one infringement per notice number. There are many flaws with this ill-conceived idea. Not least of these is that if one wishes to make a representation or nominate a driver for a single infringement, there is no way to do so.
AARTO 03e infringement notice [in respect of] multiple camera or electronically captured infringements.
The relative newcomers to the block in respect of the AARTO Act, OUTA, who have not only publicly stated their intention to challenge the AARTO Amendment Act, but also had quite a lot to say about the timing of that Gazette at that time, have failed to counter Chuwe’s patently untruthful allegations.
That being what it may, one must ask just who is being “disingenuous”. Is it those who have said that AARTO and e-tolls go hand in hand, or is it Mr Chuwe?
The future of e-tolls
On 6 July 2019, President Ramaphosa announced that he had mandated the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula working with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng Premier David Makhura to submit to Cabinet a solution to the impasse around e-tolling on Gauteng freeways, to bring an end to the e-tolls catastrophe. “The President has called on the Ministers and Premier to table proposals to Cabinet by the end of August 2019,” the statement read.
On Wednesday 28 August, Mbalulamet with OUTA and the AA, only for the SA Government news service to announce on Saturday 31 August that the so-called “deadline” had been extended “to allow for thorough consultation with organs of civil society, labour and business”.
Considering the initial e-tolls solution deadline set by the President, it’s hard not to wonder Minister Mbalula waited until the eleventh hour to commence consultation with some organs of civil society, and then a further six weeks after it to meet with others, business and labour. What’s more, it’s hard not to wonder what may have possibly changed in the stance of organs of civil society, labour and business since Gauteng Premier, David Makhura convened his so-called “e-tolls review panel” more than five years ago, in 2014.
According to MoneyWeb, President Ramaphosa is expected to make an announcement in respect of the commencement of the AARTO Amendment Act on Saturday 5 October 2019.
“Joanne” asks: “I have a quick question. Is it illegal to warn people on a community WhatsApp group of a road block where you are informed of and asked to pay outstanding traffic fines?”
While the question may be “quick”, its answer is a little more complex and therefore has to be comprehensive. It must also be noted that this answer is strictly confined to warning people of roadblocks established for the purpose of collecting traffic fine revenues. Of course, the short answer is: “no, it is notillegal to warn people of the existence of roadblocks in certain circumstances“. But please do read on for further clarity.
What the law says
In terms of the law, there is no definitive prohibition in respect of warning others of the existence of law enforcement operations of any kind. This includes, but is not limited to roadblocks. However, where such an operation is being conducted with a specific purpose in mind (e.g. to apprehend a dangerous criminal), warning the persons who are sought in such operations could be construed to constitute defeating the ends of justice.
That said, in the narrow context of what Joanne’s question appears to be asking, it is unlikely that a Court would accept any allegations of defeating the ends of justice. There are numerous reasons for this, not least of which is that our Courts have previously held that flashing one’s lights to warn oncoming motorists of the existence of a speed trap, for example, does not constitute this crime.
The reason is simple. To be guilty of defeating the ends of justice, the person flashing their lights would have to have a reasonable suspicion that an oncoming vehicle is exceeding the speed limit, or is about to exceed the speed limit. (see: S v Perera [1978 3 SA 523 (T)])
Obviously, there is a difference between flashing one’s lights and using social media to reveal the locations of law enforcement operations and as yet, no legislation has been drafted, or even proposed, to deal with this phenomenon.
While it may be true that warning people of the existence of roadblocks established for the purpose of crime detection and prevention, detecting unroadworthy vehicles, etc. may be shoehorned into the definition of defeating the ends of justice, the same is not true of doing so in respect of roadblocks established with the objective to collect fine revenues, through means of coercion.
What makes such coercion possible is ordinary people’s ignorance of the law. This in turn makes them vulnerable to such practices. After all, what reasonable person would reasonably conclude that a law enforcement official would deliberately engage in unlawful practices?
Both, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act have inbuilt, definitive mechanisms to deal with offenders who fail to act in respect of their traffic fines.
The Criminal Procedure Act
In the case of the Criminal Procedure Act, these mechanisms include a warrant of arrest. One is issued should the alleged offender fail to appear in Court, once he or she has been summoned to do so, and fails to appear in Court or otherwise dispose of the matter prior to the trial date.
Where a warrant of arrest has been issued, peace officers are under strict instruction to arrest the person cited in that warrant and are immunised from claims of unlawful arrest. Although such warrants may be executed at a roadblock, the warrant itself does not limit its execution to roadblocks. In fact, the warrant of arrest instructs the peace officer to immediately proceed to arrest the person in respect of whom it has been issued, and bring him or her before the Court that issued the warrant of arrest.
In the case of a road traffic offence for which an admission of guilt fine may be paid, no warrant of arrest may be issued prior to the Court date. Furthermore, no person can be forced to pay a traffic fine in the absence of a Court convicting that person of the offence he or she is alleged to have committed.
According to Section 57(6) of the Criminal Procedure Act, the payment of an admission of guilt fine that appears on a summons issued in terms of Section 54 or a written notice issued in terms of Section 56 of the Criminal Procedure Act, shall result in a criminal conviction being recorded in the criminal records book for admissions of guilt, held at the Magistrates’ Court with jurisdiction.
Although this provision may sound scary, in practical application, criminal records that reflect on the South African Police Service (SAPS) Criminal Records Centre (CRC) database require that a docket is registered and the fingerprints of the convicted person are taken prior to such recordal. In the case of traffic fines, this rarely (if ever) happens unless that person has been arrested prior to their trial and makes payment of an admission of guilt fine after their fingerprints have been taken*.
[* This has repeatedly been confirmed in litigation and judgments before the High Court.]
The AARTO Act
The AARTO Act differs considerably from the Criminal Procedure Act inasmuch as it does not include a warrant of arrest. In fact, it does not include a summons or written notification to appear in Court, unless (in its current form*), the alleged infringer elects to be tried in Court. Even where an alleged infringer does elect to be tried in Court, and subsequently fails to appear in Court, a warrant of arrest may not be issued.
Instead, the AARTO Act employs a series of administrative actions which are designed to effectively force the payment of traffic fines. Amongst these coercive measures is the enforcement order, which has the effect of blocking licensing transactions – but only insofar as things such as licence discs being refused – not the payment of licensing fees being similarly disallowed.
The existence of one or more enforcement orders blocks the issuing of a driving licence, professional driving permit and licence disk.
[* The AARTO Amendment Act, No. 4 of 2019 removes the right of an alleged infringer to elect to be tried in Court. It is not yet in force.]
Roadblocks and so-called “roadside checks”
It is no secret that traffic law enforcement authorities regularly set up roadblocks, with the primary purpose of collecting what they regard to be their dues in respect of traffic fines revenues.
Although they regularly call such roadblocks “roadside checks” in order to circumvent Section 13(8) of the SAPS Act, coupled with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (“the Constitution”) in respect of freedom of movement and the prohibition of arbitrary searches, blocking a road constitutes a roadblock and not a so-called “roadside check”.
Roadblocks are called “roadblocks” because they BLOCK the road – in one direction or both directions! (doh!)
This is so, even if Automatic Number Plate Recognition (“ANPR”) is used to identify those motorists who have outstanding traffic fines.
Section 3I (three, capital i) of the National Road Traffic Act empowers any traffic officer to stop any motorist without the need to establish any “probable cause”. It has been suggested by many that this provision is unconstitutional. To an extent, JPSA agrees, more especially when it is used to establish so-called “roadside checks” for reasons other than establishing the fitness of the driver and/or the vehicle they are operating.
ANPR cameras are used to identify vehicles with outstanding traffic fines, etc.
What the Constitution says
Section 35(3) of the Bill of Rights in terms of the Constitution provides numerous rights to all accused persons. These persons do not have to be arrested and/or detained in order for these constitutional rights to apply. Section 35(3)(h) specifically provides: “Every accused person has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent, to remain silent, and not to testify during the proceedings”.
A traffic fine constitutes an allegation of wrongdoing. From the reading of Section 35(3) of the Constitution, it is apparent that anyone who stands accused of committing a road traffic offence or in infringement is an accused person. Not so say law enforcement authorities, State Owned Enterprises and Agencies and politicians.
For reasons best known to them, law enforcement authorities, State Owned Enterprises and Agencies and politicians have come to the conclusion that Section 35(3) of the Constitution does not apply to those who stand accused of road traffic infringements and offences. Some have even gone so far as to say that the mere fact that a traffic officer has issued a notice constitutes prima facie evidence that the person cited in that notice is guilty of the offence or infringement*. Others have said that because the AARTO Act is administrative in nature, a person in respect of whom an infringement notice is issued is not an accused person “because no term of imprisonment” is contemplated as one of the punishments the AARTO Act provides for.
[* See the answering affidavits of the Minister of Transport and the Road Traffic Infringement Agency.]
These seemingly absurd allegations will be tested in the Pretoria High Court during the proceedings in HD Dembovsky v The Minister of Transport and 16 Others (Case Number 24245/2018) during February 2020, the full pleadings of which can be found here.
Coercing payment of traffic fines at roadblocks
There is no law that permits traffic authorities to coerce the payment of traffic fines at roadblocks – or anywhere else for that matter. While it may be true that no other law expressly forbids it, it is untrue to say that it is not forbidden. Section 2 of the Constitution provides “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.” (emphasis added).
While many traffic law enforcement authorities claim that they do not attempt to coerce (force) payment of traffic fines, little could be further from the truth. There is nothing unlawful about informing motorists that they have outstanding traffic fines. It is however unlawful to attempt to coerce payment, through actions and/or threats.
Retaining a person’s driving licence until they pay, or the traffic officer abandons trying to force him or her to pay is tantamount to unlawful seizure – without a warrant or “probable cause” that the driving licence card in question is a counterfeit document.
Preventing a person from leaving the site is tantamount to unlawful or false arrest because that person’s right to freedom of movement is infringed.
Telling a person that he or she faces arrest if he does not pay, in the absence of a valid warrant of arrest, is tantamount to extortion because it constitutes a threat designed to extract monies.
Demands for payment in respect of any traffic fines in respect of which a warrant of arrest is not present are all, strictly unlawful and should be treated with the contempt they deserve. While a person in respect of whom may pay an admission of guilt fine in respect of both, the charge of contempt of court and the underlying original offence with which they were charged, there is nothing in law that provides that he or she must do so.
If any person wishes to admit guilt by paying a traffic fine, he or she is fully entitled to do so, however, he or she may not be forced to do so.
Note what the RTIA’s own signwriting says: “Paying traffic fines made easy inside”. The RTIA CLAIMS that this bus is used to EDUCATE motorists in respect of ROAD SAFETY and their RIGHTS in terms of the AARTO Act.
Informing people of the whereabouts of roadblocks designed to coerce payment of traffic fines
So now that a background to the legalities of traffic fines and how they should be dealt with has been provided, finally we get to the issue of people informing others of the whereabouts of roadblocks designed to coerce payment of traffic fines through social media.
By design, roadblocks of any kind usually interrupt the natural flow of traffic. In some instances, this interruption can be mild, whilst in others, they can be significant and even costly to those caught up in them. These effects can range from being slightly delayed in one’s journey, to missing flights that have been paid for and cannot be rescheduled or refunded, and everything in between.
When those who use social media to inform others of such operations, it is not usually their intention to assist law-breakers to evade the long arm of the law. On the contrary, it is usually their intention to assist others to avoid the inconvenience caused by such operations. After all, these operations affect everyone caught up in them, even if such a person has no traffic fines and nothing to fear from law enforcement operations.
In fact, informing people of the whereabouts of roadblocks designed to coerce payment of traffic fines, whether it be via social media or any other means, can be viewed as constituting a valuable public service. This is because in most instances, it is law enforcement officials that are acting unlawfully. Unlawful behaviour should never be condoned, even if it occurs in the name of “law enforcement”.
What traffic law enforcement officials need to come to realise
Traffic law enforcement officials, and law enforcement officials in general need to come to realise that the end does not justify the means. Laws exist for a reason and it is the constitutional duty of every law enforcement official to uphold both, the law and the Constitution.
Breaking the law and infringing on people’s constitutional rights is contrary to the constitutional mandate imposed on law enforcement officials. If their expectation is for ordinary people to respect them, they should refrain from acting outside of the framework of the law and the Constitution. When they don’t refrain from these practices, they reduce themselves to the same level of criminality they are supposed to prevent and address.
What’s more, when their principles – like senior officials and politicians engage in condoning and justifying unlawful behaviour by law enforcement officials, they expose themselves as authoritarians of little or no moral fibre.
What responsible people do when they incur traffic fines
First and foremost, it should go without saying that law-abiding motorists don’t incur traffic fines. That’s because they obey road traffic laws and don’t allow their concentration to lapse whilst driving.
Sadly though, many have come to believe that traffic fines can be ignored because they merely represent a money-making racket. After all, most traffic fines constitute little more than an invoice allowing the breaking of what are considered to be lesser laws, so long as payment is made to the authorities when one does so.
Although this thinking is understandable to some extent, especially in view of the fact that even Treasury considers traffic fines to be debts to local and provincial authorities, the fact is that traffic fines should never be taken lightly. Their purported purpose is to discourage the contravention of road traffic laws, not allow one to contravene them so long as one pays.
When a responsible person becomes aware of a traffic fine issued against him or her, he or she deals with it in the appropriate manner, as quickly as possible. “Dealing with it” does not mean paying a bribe. It means taking the appropriate action to address the matter.
The appropriate action may include, but is by no means limited to paying the penalty. If you know you are guilty, put on your grown-up underwear and pay the fine!
If you are not guilty, or have any other reason to challenge the notice in question, then do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. Remember that the Constitution holds that it is the duty of whomever accuses another to prove their allegation, not for an accused person to prove their innocence.
The opinions offered in this article are those of Howard Dembovsky and are not to be construed as constituting legal advice. If you have any doubt or questions regarding legal principles, you are strongly advised to consult with a duly qualified legal professional.
On 8 March 2019, the Department of Transport published a proposed vehicle licensing transaction fee increase of R10 per transaction (payable to the RTMC) in Government Gazette 42291. As you may recall, this fee increased by R30 per transaction, from R42 to R72 with effect from 1 January 2018.
Here below are our comments on this proposed increase:
JOHANNESBURG – The announcement made today by Transport Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande that 1,612 people died during the 2018/19 festive season yet again represents a catastrophic event in the history of South Africa. This is according to the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA).
JPSA chair, Howard Dembovsky, said he could not understand how the figure announced today had declined by around 200 over the road deaths announced by SABC radio on 28 December 2018.
“It is also hard to see how this festive season’s fatalities of 1,612 allegedly represents a “reduction of 7%” when the reported figure up to 9 January 2018 was 1,573,” Dembovsky said. “This represents a 2.5% increase in road fatalities over the same period last year and a fatality rate of 42 people per day.”
JPSA has said the RTMC continued to use unequal monitoring periods. In 2017/18, the monitoring period was 1 December to 15 January (46 days). In 2018/19 it was 1 December to 8 January (39 days). This means that the number of people killed per day on the roads over the Christmas period has risen from 36 last year to 42 this year. “We should not be satisfied about a 17% increase in the daily fatality rate,” Dembovsky commented.
JPSA said Nzimande’s announcement contained incorrect information about the role of bail, and again promoted the fiction that it is legally possible for serious road traffic offences to be re-classified to Schedule 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
JPSA referred to its previous statements on how the RTMC and Department of Transport has misinterpreted the Schedules of the Criminal Procedure Act, and specifically how no provision exists in that Act to detain anyone accused of any crime, no matter how serious, for “a minimum of 7 days” without being brought before a Court for a formal bail hearing.
“It is glaringly obvious that the RTMC, together with the Department and Minister of Transport continue to do the same things and expect different results,” Dembovsky said. “Most notably, it is clear that the RTMC lacks understanding or control of the road safety situation,” he concluded.
Justice Project South Africa has criticised this move. “The DLCA is currently backlogged with applications due to a strike,” said JPSA chair, Howard Dembovsky. “A spokesperson for the Department of Transport has stated that a directive has been issued to law enforcement authorities not to prosecute motorists whose driving licence cards have expired without the new card being received as a result of the backlog.”
However, the KZN Department of Transport’s stance is that such motorists must, at a cost of R100 each, obtain temporary driving permits, or face prosecution.
JPSA said it would be surprised if the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport could convince a court to convict a motorist who has made reasonable efforts to comply with the provisions of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), but has been denied a renewed driving licence card due to the inability of the National Department of Transport to produce it within the three month extension period provided for in the NRTA.
“This announcement is also cynical, coming in the midst of the festive season travel period when testing centres are unlikely to be able to meet such a sudden demand for temporary licences, and with many motorists already on holiday away from their homes and without access to the supporting documentation needed for an application,” Dembovsky added.
He reminded motorists that a driving licence is valid indefinitely, until such time as it is suspended or cancelled. It is only the driving licence card which should be renewed every five and a professional driving permit (also on a driving licence card) which must be renewed every two years.
Although a court may take the view that it is the motorist’s duty not to drive in contravention of the law, it is the State’s duty to ensure compliance is possible. JPSA strongly recommends that anyone who is fined after making application for the renewal of their driving licence card or professional driving permit defends the matter on the basis that compliance is not reasonably possible at such short notice during the festive season, and that the direct cause of the non-compliance is the State’s failure to manage the DLCA effectively.
JOHANNESBURG – Over the weekend, a document purporting to be offering the services of the Law Society of South Africa and urging motorists to know their rights has again been doing the rounds on social media.
Justice Project South Africa has been in contact with the Law Society of South Africa and has also unsuccessfully tried to contact the former Law Society of the Northern Provinces, which has been replaced by the Legal Practice Council, to alert them to this anomaly. The Law Society of South Africa has confirmed the bogus nature of this document and says that it has been intermittently doing the rounds for around nine years now.
The “advice” given in this document is not only completely incorrect but is extremely reckless and malicious.
Warrants of arrest in respect of road traffic infringements have not existed in the Cities of Tshwane and Johannesburg since 2008, due to the implementation of the AARTO Act which does not include a warrant of arrest.
Elsewhere in the country, where road traffic offences are still prosecuted using the Criminal Procedure Act (including Ekurhuleni and Mogale City which abut Johannesburg and Tshwane) warrants of arrest are issued by Magistrates in respect of motorists who fail to appear in court when summoned to do so.
This arises out of written notices to appear in court in terms of Section 56 of the Criminal Procedure Act and summonses issued and served in terms of Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Act being ignored by some motorists.
Warrants of arrest may be executed by any peace officer, not just a traffic officer or policeman and resisting arrest will almost certainly land that person in even hotter water than they would have been had they simply cooperated. In addition, a peace officer is empowered to arrest any person who commits an offence in his or her presence.
No-one may be arrested for failing to carry their driving licence with them, however they can be issued with a fine for failing to do so.
JPSA has repeatedly refuted several similar bogus documents and will continue to do so. We advise motorists NOT TO follow ANY of the “advice” in this bogus document doing the rounds on social media.
JOHANNESBURG – Since Sunday 4 November 2018, the media has been abuzz over the RTMC’s plans to introduce a “7-days’ in jail policy” before a person who stands accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless or negligent driving, or speeding may apply for bail.
In the Sunday Times report which triggered the buzz, Advocate Makhosini Msibi is quoted as saying: “Above all, it must not be automatic, you must spend seven days [in jail] before you can bring the application for bail.”
So vociferous are Msibi’s absurd assertions that on page 5 of the RTMC’s “Revised Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020” (signed off by Dr Blade Nzimande), Msibi states that “One of the initiatives [of the RTMC] is to re-classify all road traffic offences to Schedule 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA)”. Simply put, this means that even a person who is arrested for parking their vehicle incorrectly should, in Msibi’s mind, be detained for seven days prior to being permitted to launch a bail application.
There is no provision whatsoever, in any South African law which authorises the South African Police Service to detain a person for seven days prior to bringing that person before a court. In fact, the Criminal Procedure Act expressly prescribes that every arrested person must be brought before a court within 48 hours of their arrest and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa expressly forbids the apartheid era style of detention without trial that the RTMC clearly wishes to reintroduce into South African society.
This “proposal” is absurd at best and represents little more than a crude attempt by the RTMC to abuse the well-established and legally sound bail process in our criminal justice system. It should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
Listen into SAfm at 09:30 on Wednesday 7 November where Howard Dembovsky will be going head to head with the RTMC on this topic.
Numerous provisions of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act, as well as certain provisions of the National Road Traffic Act are unconstitutional and should be struck down. These are the fundamental assertions made in court papers filed in the North Gauteng High Court by Howard Dembovsky, chair of Justice Project South Africa last week.
Dembovsky has said that both sets of legislation simply presume guilt on the part of an accused person, circumvent key principles in criminal law and facilitate what he describes as being “grossly unjust measures to extract revenues, facilitated through the coercive practice of withholding licence discs and other documents from persons, regardless of whether they have been found guilty of an offence or not”.
“I am seeking to enforce of my individual constitutional rights,” said Dembovsky. “The fact that my rights and the rights of my fellow South Africans are shared through the Constitution, means that should I win this challenge, every single motorist in the country will also have their rights enforced”.
His affidavit, which can be viewed and downloaded at www.aarto.co.za lays bare how the AARTO Act was implemented almost solely to extract revenue from road users, with road safety hardly featuring in it at all. The AARTO pilot project, which was meant to last no more than 18 months, is currently in its tenth year of operation, and an Amendment Bill currently being processed by the National Council of Provinces seeks to further diminish the constitutional rights of motorists, even going so far as to altogether remove the right to a fair trial for traffic offences. Dembovsky hastens to add that he is not however challenging the AARTO Amendment Bill at this juncture, since it has not yet been signed into law. “That bridge will be crossed when, and indeed if we come to it,” he said.
When asked what he thought should replace the AARTO Act if he wins this court battle, he replied that government and the law enforcement community should simply obey the law and enforce laws within the prescripts of the law. “20 years ago, the Road Traffic Act was not much different to what the National Road Traffic Act is today, and it was successfully enforced using the Criminal Procedure Act,” he commented. “At that time, a South African’s risk of dying in a traffic crash was one-third what it is today. But as time has progressed and policing has become lazier and more revenue-centric, so too has a general breakdown in law and order, coupled with sharp rise in the fatalities on our roads followed,” he continued.
He said that there are ways that the application of the Criminal Procedure Act in relation to road traffic infringements could be improved, but that the fundamental issues of equality before the law, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence were enshrined in the Constitution and justice system are still catered for in that legislation and therefore, the Criminal Procedure Act is and remains ideally suited to prosecuting road traffic offences and infringements. He described the AARTO Act as creating a parallel system that tries to operate completely outside of the framework of the rule of law, in the interests of expediency and not justice.
“It is time government sat down, breathed deeply, and asked the most important question: ‘How do we reduce road deaths?’” Dembovsky said. “Chasing revenue by enacting unconstitutional laws and abusing the provisions of others is not the answer. If government genuinely wants to implement a points-demerit system, then one can easily be incorporated into the National Road Traffic Act without the need to run roughshod over the constitutional rights of people,” he concluded.
He believes that he has an exceptionally strong case and “looks forward to arguing it before the court”.
The recent media hype surrounding e-tolls and the AARTO Amendment Bill is somewhat misleading and needs to be clarified.
While it is true to say that under the current AARTO Regulations, drivers of operator-class motor vehicles could have their driving licences suspended for failing to pay e-tolls, if the points-demerit system was in force now, this is not true with respect to drivers of around 91% of the registered self-propelled vehicles in South Africa.
Please note: “RWC” means operator-class vehicles.
Even though it has not been promulgated yet, a 7 December 2015 draft amendment to the AARTO Regulations indicated the intention of the Department of Transport to dispose of the single demerit-point applicable to charge code 3821 in Schedule 3 of the AARTO Regulations.
Please note: “RWC” means operator-class vehicles.
It is little more than a play on words to say that “not paying your e-tolls is not a traffic infringement” and “instead counts as disobeying a road sign”.
The descriptive wording of charge codes 3820 and 3821 is “Failed to comply with the directions conveyed by a road traffic sign by using a toll road without paying the toll charge”. Therefore the underlying infringement is driving on a toll road without paying the toll charge. Whether that toll charge is payable at an ordinary toll plaza or arises from passing under an e-toll gantry is irrelevant since the SANRAL Act, which is road traffic legislation, contemplates both means of toll collection and creates a road traffic offence for not complying.
SANRAL has failed to issue even a single infringement notice and prosecute even a single person for failing to pay e-tolls since the inception of e-tolling in 2013. The singular conviction, by plea agreement, of Dr Stoyan Stoychev in 2015, for number plate fraud and evading e-tolls in the process, does not alter this fact.
Perhaps part of the reason for this phenomenon is that serving infringement notices in person or by registered mail is a costly affair. The AARTO Amendment Bill seeks to introduce “electronic service” which will save issuing authorities and the RTIA astronomical amounts of money. The Bill also seeks to remove the right of an alleged infringer to elect to be tried in court and in so doing, to be afforded their constitutional right to a fair trial. As a result, issuing authorities, including but not limited to SANRAL, would never have to prove their allegations, if the Bill is signed into law.
JPSA maintains that, despite the AARTO Amendment Bill reportedly having been scrutinised and certified by the State Law Advisors, it will fail to pass constitutional and other legal muster if it is signed into law. The e-tolls issue is a separate, but interlinked issue and is yet to be resolved.