HomeNews‘Police in contempt of court over spot fines’

‘Police in contempt of court over spot fines’

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LEGAL experts have warned that police are in contempt of court for rebuffing and defying High Court judge Justice Francis Bere’s statement declaring that spot fines and impounding of vehicles is illegal.

BY SILENCE CHARUMBIRA

Police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi yesterday issued a defiant full-page statement insisting that it was business as usual for the police who will not brook calls to end the highly controversial and unpopular practice.

But as the war of words over Justice Bere’s statement escalated, prominent human rights lawyer Aleck Muchadehama pointed out that Bulawayo High Court judges, Justices Misheck Cheda and Lawrence Kamocha, set a judicial precedent on August 2, 2012.

In judgment number HB157/12, the High Court ruled motorists caught using mobile phones should be issued with tickets to pay fines later as long they have acceptable identification.

“A police officer cannot and should not insist on a spot fine on the basis that he is not in possession of a ticket book which ticket book is a necessary administrative tool for executing his duties. A police officer’s failure to carry relevant stationery cannot be used to curb and/or infringe people’s rights,” the High Court ruled.

Muchadehama said Justice Bere had, in fact, given the police free legal advice that they should take seriously.

“He has seen the people suffering at the hands of the police under the guise of admission of guilt. But typical of the police like a rogue organisation, they are throwing the free legal advice away,” he said.

Another lawyer, Chris Mhike, said the issue might have been debated in Parliament and deliberated on by Cabinet as alleged by the police, but the critical point was that no law was subsequently passed.
“One of the fundamental principles of law is that there should be no punishment without a specific law to justify the punishment. In the absence of an Act of Parliament or Statutory Instrument that legalises the conduct of the police, it is safe to conclude that the continuation of the spot fine practice and retention of funds by the force is controversial and potentially illegal,” Mhike said.

Information minister Professor Jonathan Moyo also waded into the debate with a social media post that attacked Justice Bere.

Moyo posted on his newly opened Facebook account 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.”

But constitutional lawyer and former Education minister David Coltart said the police should not be dismissive of the judge’s remarks and should have sought advice from the Attorney-General.

“There is a very important principle at stake here which goes to the root of our justice system and indeed Constitution. The principle is that one is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty,” he said, adding police were not there to convict people.

“This practice is illegal and unconstitutional and must stop. If the present government is even vaguely interested in respecting the rule of law, it should issue a statement immediately ending the practice and advising that the Constitution will be respected,” Coltart said.

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