Reports that millions of Gauteng traffic fines issued in the last few years would be scrapped may have jumped the gun.
On Friday the High Court in Pretoria ruled in favour of traffic fines management company Fines 4 U and Audi Centre Johannesburg, who took the traffic authorities to court for not following the due process of traffic violation enforcement.
Judge Bill Prinsloo found that the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) failed to dispatch traffic fines per the regulations of the Aarto act, which included requiring registered mail to be used for final infringement notices, and the timelines for the serving of the notices.
Some media reports have suggested that residents of Johannesburg and Pretoria – the only two cities where Aarto has been implemented – could breathe a sigh of relief as the judgement meant millions of traffic fines issued under Aarto since 2008 must be scrapped where authorities didn't comply with the act’s conditions.
However, Justice Project South Africa's Howard Dembovsky believes it's too soon for motorists to simply forget about their outstanding fines.
"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," he says.
"It's not a blanket scrapping of fines. This Review Judgment was granted only to Fines 4 U and Audi Centre Johannesburg and was specific to the 415 affected infringement notices."
Ignoring the fines won't make them evaporate, says Dembovsky. However, motorists who feel that the correct procedures weren't followed in the issuing of their traffic fines should exercise their option to go to court and make representation.
"The chances of the processes having been stuck to in every other case are very low. There is no chance that the processes were followed properly in all of the other millions of fines," he says.
Fines4U owner Cornelia van Niekerk agrees, saying that a large percentage of these fines would be affected by the same failures. She has called upon the RTIA to cancel all similarly affected fines without delay.
Still a significant win for the public
Although there has been no mass scrapping of fines, the court case has been a significant win for the public and for the rule of law, says Wayne Duvenage, chairman of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
"It means that no enforcement orders may be introduced to block the public from having their vehicle licences renewed unless the traffic management authorities can prove they have followed due process," he says.
"Due process of traffic violation enforcement has not been followed by those in authority, forcing the public to pay for fines while their rights to challenge them has been effectively denied.
"There has been a tendency for our traffic authorities, over time, to circumvent their required legal obligations insofar as traffic fine notification processeses go. This in turn led to traffic fines being converted to enforcement orders, which essentially became a mechanism of extortion, by blocking the vehicle owner’s ability to relicence their vehicles – until the fines were paid.
"In doing so, the rights of motorists to enquire about the legitimacy of the fine or to benefit from early settlement discounts had been removed. The motorist was left with two choices; drive an unlicenced vehicle (with added risks), or pay the outstanding traffic fines."
According to Aarto, infringement notices for traffic offences must be handed to you by a traffic officer or, if it's a camera fine, delivered by registered mail. If the infringer doesn't react to this for 32 days a courtesy letter must be issued via registered mail. An enforcement order must be issued (again by registered mail) if infringers fail to comply with the courtesy letter.
If you do not comply with the provisions of an enforcement order within 32 days after issuing thereof, a warrant will be issued and handed to a Sheriff for execution, who may attach your property and your driving licence.
If you feel one of more of those processes were not adhered to, you have reasonable grounds for cancelling your ticket and you may submit a representation (i.e. a sworn statement) via the Aarto website.