THE police practice of impounding vehicles at roadblocks for failure to pay spot fines by motorists is “unlawful”, a judge ruled yesterday. Justice Andrew Mutema of the Bulawayo High Court made the ruling as he ordered police to release a car they seized from former Lupane West MP Njabuliso Mguni (MDC-T), who had failed to pay a $50 spot fine.
Mguni, through his lawyer, Lizwe Jamela, of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), challenged the seizure.
The respondents in the case — the police Officer-in-Charge Traffic Section (Bulawayo District), the Officer Commanding Bulawayo Province and the Home Affairs Minister — did not oppose Mguni’s petition for an order declaring the police actions illegal.
“The conduct of the respondents be and hereby declared unlawful. The first respondent is hereby directed to release the impounded vehicle, a Toyota Carina registration number AAC4478 forthwith to the applicant upon production of the car’s registration book,” said Justice Mutema.
“In the event that there are any allegations against applicant or the vehicle, the respondents should follow the laid procedures in justice administration.”
Mguni’s brush with the police suggests the ZRP continues to violate a 2012 ruling by Justice Maphios Cheda of the Bulawayo High Court who held that police cannot insist on the payment of a spot fine by the roadside. The judge said motorists should be issued with a ticket to be paid within a reasonable time.
“The said ticket should give the motorist a reasonable time within which to pay the fine in accordance with their regulations, unless the said offender elects to pay the fine on the spot,” Justice Cheda said.
Justice Cheda said an exception could be made where the motorist was a foreigner or had no “acceptable identification which will in turn make it difficult for him/her to be traced in the event of a default in paying the fine.”
In his affidavit, Mguni stated that he was stopped at a roadblock by a police officer while driving along 6th Avenue in Bulawayo’ CBD on March 16. The vehicle belongs to one Thembile Moyo.
The police officer who stopped him advised him that his third number plate was tampered with and for that reason he should pay a $20 fine.
“I was advised that I should pay an additional fine of $20 for an alleged missing rear number plate light and a further $10 for alleged missing front reflectors. This gave a total of $50 in all,” Mguni said.
“I advised the police officer, who was addressing me, whose particulars are unknown to me, that I did not have the said money in my possession. I then requested a ticket to be issued against me so that I would be able to practise my lawful option as I was in no position to pay the fine so demanded.”
The former legislator said his request was dismissed by the officer, who insisted that the motor vehicle would be impounded until he paid the fine.