The new Aarto Act will presume motorists guilty until they prove innocence, litigators warn
Pretoria - The new amended Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act to be rolled out in June will presume motorists guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
This was said by litigators Howard Dembovsky, the chief executive of Justice Project South Africa and his associates from De Klerk and Marais Incorporated, who appealed to South Africans to wake up and smell the coffee because this was wrong.
Dembovsky addressed the media in Hatfield to highlight various concerning foundational provisions in the Aarto Act that’s already signed into law.
He said, to be clear, he did not have a problem with the points demerit system that will be ushered in by the act because South Africa should have had that kind of road safety system many years ago.
It was, however, the idea that motorists would be presumed guilty of infringements until proven innocent that bothered him.
This, he explained, was unconstitutional in the sense that the constitution actually presumes people to be innocent until proven guilty, but the act was going to presume vice versa in the case of motorists.
Dembovsky called on the public to jump on board and support the litigation that was made back in April 2018.
This would help avoid complaining about the act on social media when it’s already too late.
He has called on the public and organisations to fund the litigation that’s been waiting for a date for two years to step in court and argue against the official opponent who responded to the litigation.
These included Minister of Police Bheki Cele, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, Road Traffic Management Corporation and Shareholder committee, and the City of Tshwane and Johannesburg’s metro police departments.
Dembovsky said although the process to amend the act underwent the process of public participation, it focused mainly on road safety instead of the infringement systems.
He said: “In short, was the public consultation something I could turn around and say was meaningful? No. Was it the government's fault? No, it was our fellow drivers and vehicle owners’ fault for literally sitting on their hands and not being aware, and allowing themselves to be led by their noses and believing that this is a road safety thing.
He said of course everyone wants road safety. However, road safety is enforced by the criminal procedure act, not the Aarto Act. The Aarto Act deals with infringements, and it’s where motorists would be presumed guilty until proven innocent, something that bothers Dembovsky.
He said the infringement industry was worth billions and 50% of its fiscal benefits central government.
“What’s going to stop a government or a City in need of money to send traffic officers to the streets to write as many fines as possible because we know the central government needs money?”
Dembovsky said this new amended act was basically a process of converting traffic fines to invoices and giving government powers to say “pay these fines or we’ll hurt you.”
“How are you going to prove, for example, if a traffic officer alleges that you failed to come to a stop at a stop street?
"How are you going to prove in writing that you did?
"That’s why we have trial courts because in the trial courts it is the up to the accuser to prove the allegations, not the accused persons to prove their innocence.”
Dembovsky is hoping that the matter could be heard in court before the act is rolled out nationally. He said he did not want to focus on rumours or allegations of manipulations as to why it hasn’t been heard inside court since 2018 despite the litigation.
He’s calling on South Africans and activism organisations to answer his call to work together to fight the government on this matter.
Other organisations he has approached have not responded.