Johannesburg - In a move that smacks of legalised bounty hunting, a private company has begun sending emails and SMSes that look like they’re from the Road Traffic Infringement Agency, in an attempt to collect on “stagnated” traffic fines issued by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department.
The email address is “[email protected]” - which is in reality the address of a private company call Syntell - and each email carries the RTIA’s logo and motto, and lists your name, your ID number, the details of your vehicles and a list of your outstanding AARTO infringement notices, going back to 2012, together with the threat that “You will not be able to renew your vehicle or driving license whilst an Enforcement Order is outstanding”.
But, according to Justice Project South Africa chairman Howard Dembovsky, most if not all of those fines were originally sent out by ordinary post, rather than registered mail as required by AARTO legislation, so they can’t be prosecuted - whether or not they’re valid.
And why the 2012 cut-off date? That, explained Dembovsky, was when the JMPD and RTIA backed down under the threat of litigation and cancelled all the fines it had sent out since 2010 labelled as AARTO infringement notices but which were in captured by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department on its own database.
In fact, Syntell did exactly the same with traffic fines issued by the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, he said, until the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions issued a national directive ordering the withdrawal of stagnated matters under that legislation.
Fines 4 U vs RTIA
As for the AARTO infringement notices, he pointed out, the Pretoria High Court’s review judgment in the matter between Fines 4 U and Audi Johannesburg versus Road Traffic Infringement Agency deputy registrar Sherman Amos and others held that the failure of the authorities to comply with the provisions of the “adjudication procedure” prescribed in the AARTO Act not only constituted a legally valid defence, but also made any infringement notices that hadn’t followed the prescribed process “stagnated” - which meant they couldn’t be pursued any further.
This judgment, however, stopped short of ordering the cancellation of any stagnated AARTO infringement notices except the ones mentioned in that case, so those notices are still ‘on the books’ - although anybody who received one can legally use the same defence.
That doesn’t stop the RTIA and its bounty hunter Syntell from trying to scare you into paying them.
Driving revenue streams
As usual, Dembovsky said, the RTIA seemed to be waiting for you to make written representations to have these stagnated fines withdrawn or cancelled, in the apparent hope that less informed motorists would pay up instead, .
He said there seemed to be limit to how far dishonest authorities and service providers would go to drive their revenues up - and that wouldn’t change, he insisted, until traffic law enforcement started to focus on road safety, rather than how much money could be made by pretending to enforce the law.
If you have received one of these emails or SMSes, refer to the Justice Project detailed advisory, to find out how to handle it.