Police will continue collecting spot fines for traffic and other criminal offences and will not be bound by High Court judge Justice Francis Bere’s utterances on Monday that they must stop, as this was his personal opinion.Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi urged the public in a statement yesterday to ignore Justice Bere’s opinion and continue cooperating with the police in paying spot fines whenever necessary.
Officially opening the 2015 legal year in Masvingo, Justice Bere said there was neither a legal framework nor any law which either compelled a motorist to pay a spot fine or which empowered police to impound someone’s vehicle.
The judge also called for clarity on the retention of the spot fines by the police.
“Police wishes to advise the public that Justice Bere is expressing his own personal opinion and nothing has changed in terms of the procedures which empower the Zimbabwe Republic Police to accept deposit fines whether it is a criminal or traffic offence,” said Chief Supt Nyathi.
“The statement was made outside court as it is not an issue which was brought before the court by someone, so that arguments are heard from either side.
“Justice Bere’s statement is not binding on police operations. We encourage the public to continue cooperating with the police on all activities to ensure the smooth delivery of justice in the country and maintenance of law, order and security.”
Chief Supt Nyathi said spot fines had since been approved by Cabinet.
“The issue of deposit fines was duly tabled before Parliament and approved by Cabinet and justified by Honourable Minister of Home Affairs on several occasions in Parliament, Portfolio Committees deliberations and public fora,” he said.
“In terms of the law, the ZRP has been authorised to accept and retain deposit fines. The money is domiciled in an account at Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) authorised by Treasury.”
Chief Supt Nyathi described the judge’s comments as a form of interference with the operations of the police.
He said ZRP has put in place measures to curb corruption.
“The ZRP has a zero tolerance on corruption and has put in place many strategies to curb the vice within its rank and file. However we want to point out that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” said Chief Supt Nyathi.
“Police have strategies to modernise the issue of investigation techniques, but this has been hampered by the issue of illegal sanctions and economic challenges being faced by our country.
“We thought this is common knowledge to the public and even to judges.”
But legal experts said yesterday that the collection of spot fines by the police and the impounding of vehicles for offending motorists was tantamount to extortion.
They said the police practice was an arbitrary behaviour not supported by any law.
Top Harare lawyer and Mudzi legislator Jonathan Samukange, hailed Justice Bere, saying the police were breaking the law on the roads in the name of enforcement of the traffic laws.
“Justice Bere is 100 percent correct,” he said. “There is no provision in the Road Traffic Act and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which allows police to force motorists to pay spot fines.
“The police officers are the ones committing offences on the roads because forcing motorists to pay fines on the spot or impounding vehicles is pure extortion.
“If a motorist refuses to pay the fine his or her vehicle will be impounded or the motorist may also be arrested. Some motorists end up paying the fine under duress because of fear when at law they have a right to deny the charges or pay the fine at the nearest police station within seven days.
“The demand for payment of spot fines is a corrupt practice and that should stop.”
Samukange said the collected fines should be taken to court in terms of the law where the Clerk of Court receipts it and the dockets are forwarded to a provincial magistrate for confirmation.
He said the collected money should go to Treasury and it must not be used anyhow by the police.
Another prominent lawyer Terrence Hussein said payment of a fine must be done at a police station and not on the roads.
“The judge was right,” he said. “We don’t know where the police are deriving their powers from when no law authorises them to act in that manner.
“The power to impose fines vests with the court unless if one signs an admission. When one doesn’t admit to the charges, he or she has a right to go to court.”
Motorists in Harare said the police should allow them to pay fines at a later stage at any nearest police station.
Ruvimbo Shirichena of Harare said: “While we have to obey road regulations, failure to do so has not always been intentional. There is no money for us to pay all vehicle expenses.
“The police have become merciless and the idea of spot fines creates an opportunity for some of them to take bribes.”
A kombi driver Anyway Gono said: “We don’ t have money every time on us and no one really does in such hard times. We should be allowed to pay the fines later at the police station after raising the money.”
Roy Masamba also of Harare said: “Spot fines promote corruption and it’s better for us to pay directly at the police station.”
Writing on his Facebook wall yesterday, Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo said it was wrong for Justice Bere to speak as if he was making a ruling on the case.
“Notwithstanding any legal or even factual merits that Justice Bere’s statement might have, it must be said that it is not in the interest of the rule of law or of justice that the judge was apparently willing and happy to misdirect himself to the point of making a very serious personal pronouncement that had the false ring of a court ruling,” he said.
“With all respect to the Honourable Judge, it was wrong for him to use a public forum to make statements that sounded like a court ruling or judgment outside court; without a case before him; without examining competing facts; without hearing the affected or interested parties, including ZRP and without hearing legal arguments from lawyers representing the contending parties in the issue.
“In my respectful view, what Justice Bere said about ZRP spot fines was no better than a speech which was unfortunately presented in the language and with the contrived authority of a court judgment. Not surprisingly, that speech has been misunderstood as such.”
Prof Moyo said the police were right to feel aggrieved, although their feelings did not mean that they had no case to answer, but simply that they have not been lawfully made to answer in a court of law.
“And so, the jury is still out as to whether ZRP spot fines are illegal. That can only be tested and determined in court,” he said.
“Meanwhile, Justice Bere’s premature and misplaced speech has most probably irreparably harmed the prospect of having that test determined in favour of motorists whose jubilation is certain to be short-lived as they face continued grief on the treacherous roads.”