Are city traffic fines legal?

2013-08-02 00:00

A DURBAN magistrate is locked in a battle with the Msunduzi Municipality over her car, which was impounded and removed from a no-parking zone outside the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

Senior magistrate Lindani Ndlobu wants R299 355 in damages for the pain and suffering and psychological trauma that was caused.

At issue for Ndlovu is whether the municipal traffic policeman had the authority to issue her with a fine, let alone impound her vehicle and have it towed away.

She has engaged the services of city lawyer Sundeep Singh, who has written to the municipality claiming that none of the municipal traffic officers has been issued with a peace officer certificate. Singh contends that this means they cannot issue fines for any traffic violations.

Peace officer certificates are issued in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act and without such a certificate the traffic officers’ actions are unlawful and unconstitutional and therefore infringed on his clients constitutional rights, he said.

In addition to the amount, Singh is also demanding a refund of the towing fee of R645 from the council. He also wants the fine of R300 to be withdrawn.

The lawyer said that unless payment was made to his office within 30 days, his instruction was to proceed with an action in the magistrate’s court for payment.

For Msunduzi municipal manager, Mxolizi Nkosi, it is a case of “bring it on”.

He said his traffic policemen had peace officer status. This was sorted out in November last year when all of them had their fingerprints taken and checked for criminal records.

Nkosi said there was no basis for the challenge. “I have a high level of confidence in the officers we have, they qualify to be there and have every right to issue fines.”

He said it was a “cheap shot” by a judicial officer to attempt to abuse a loophole, while agreeing on paper that she was indeed wrong by parking in a no-parking spot.

However, Ndlovu is also not giving in. She agrees that she committed a traffic offence, but says the traffic officer — if he had peace officer status and the authority to do so — should not have impounded her vehicle, but just issued her with a fine. Her vehicle was not blocking any traffic and was parked well off the road.

Ndlovu said she almost “had a heart attack” when she walked out and saw that her vehicle had disappeared. She thought it had been stolen. She said the traffic officers may be qualified and have clean criminal records but, like a doctor, they should have a piece of paper to prove it.

Singh said that the criminal court entitles him to ask for documentation and he will be making an application to see the certificates.

Nkosi’s response was that he would meet them in court.

Peace Officers: requirements

ACCORDING to the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, a peace officer certificate is issued by the area commissioner of the SA Police Service (SAPS) within whose jurisdiction the officer is to perform the majority of his or her functions. The area commissioner can delegate the duty to a commissioned officer. It must be stated on the certificate that in the opinion of the SAPS officer the person is competent to carry out his duty. The certificate is issued after the following criteria are checked: that the person has no previous criminal convictions, has been declared fit to possess a firearm or ammunition, and has had the necessary training. The certificate would have the following information: the full name of the person appointed, identity number, signature, photograph and a description of the capacity in which they were appointed.

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