High Court judgment slams AARTO abuses

JOHANNESBURG – On Friday 24 February 2017, the High Court in Pretoria put straight some of the flagrant abuses of power which have been practiced by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) for a long time now, when Judge Bill Prinsloo ruled in favour of traffic fines management company Fines 4 U (Pty) Ltd and Audi Centre Johannesburg in a tedious and expensive PAJA Review Application brought against the former Deputy Registrar of the RTIA and eight other parties.

In short, Judge Prinsloo ruled that the RTIA and issuing authorities may not do as they wish, act outside of the framework of the AARTO Act and run roughshod over the constitutional rights of motorists. He also found the propensity of the RTIA’s “representations officers” to make some representations successful while rejecting others which were essentially identical to be irrational and the interference of the then Deputy Registrar in the “adjudication” of representations to have been ultra vires (beyond his powers).

The net effect of this landmark judgment is that all of the 570 infringement notices upon which Mrs Cornelia van Niekerk, in her capacity as the proxy for Audi Centre Johannesburg made representation on in 2013 have now been made successful by the setting aside of the clearly irrational and inconsistent decision of making 208 representations unsuccessful and the Deputy Registrar instructing that the remaining 207 which had not yet been “adjudicated” be made unsuccessful, while 155 of them were successful.

All of the said representations were made on identical grounds and it was only the infringement notice numbers, dates, times, places of infringement, as well as the charge code and fine which differed. The nub of those representations centred around the non-service of AARTO infringement notices, as well as the failure of the RTIA to follow other processes which are prescribed in the Act.

Whilst this judgment augers well for other people and entities who have suffered similar abuses by the RTIA, the Judge did not rule and could not have ruled that all similar representations and affected AARTO infringement notices issued since 2008 must be scrapped since this Review Judgment was granted only to Fines 4 U and Audi Centre Johannesburg and was specific to the 415 affected infringement notices.

Any other person who feels that they have been wronged by the Agency and/or the issuing authorities which are compelled to operate within the framework of the AARTO Act will therefore not see their traffic fines being automatically scrapped as a result of this judgment since it was granted exclusively to Fines 4 U and Audi Centre Johannesburg.

What it does mean however is that all similarly affected persons and entities are fully entitled to cite this reportable decided case in making representations to the RTIA.

It is also possible that this judgment will have a material effect on the Application that JPSA has brought in the Pretoria High Court regarding the service, or more specifically, non-service of AARTO documents required to be served by “registered mail” by issuing authorities and the RTIA.

In addition, Justice Project South Africa has long held that the fact that AARTO representations are “adjudicated” by employees of the RTIA who have to report to its management, whose salaries are paid by the RTIA and where the RTIA is funded in the main by revenues derived from traffic fines, as well as by the fees it raises on courtesy letters, enforcement orders and unsuccessful representations, quite simply does not put the RTIA and any of its employees in the position of being an “independent adjudicator” over traffic fines.

JPSA has also held that applications for the revocation of enforcement orders which the Registrar issues in the first place and then gets to decide whether he should revoke them or not similarly does not put him and/or the RTIA in the position of being an “independent adjudicator”.

JPSA’s submission and presentation in September 2016 to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport, which is considering amendments to the AARTO Act, fell on deaf ears and has seen that Committee come up with further proposed amendments to the AARTO Act which seek to trample upon the constitutional rights of motorists. The Committee made JPSA and 10 other interested persons/entities aware of this by email and published its proposed amendments on the Parliament of the RSA website on 22 February 2017, giving interested parties just 16 days to comment.

The full judgment can be viewed here.