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Landmark ruling on impounded vehicles

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THE Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow on the Transport ministry’s Vehicle Inspection Department (VID) when it ruled it had illegally held a vehicle owned by Tafadzwa Gambiza and charged him storage fees, ending a three-year court battle.

BY BLESSED MHLANGA

Gambiza’s vehicle, a Toyota Dyna, was impounded by Eustina Nyati in 2015 for worn-out tyres and carrying livestock before it was issued with a prohibition of use notice with instructions that the vehicle be towed for repairs.

However, VID Kwekwe officials refused to release the vehicle to Gambiza, saying he was supposed to pay a fine of $290 when the fine for the offence was $15 under section 73(2) of the Road Traffic Act Chapter 13:11 before he could take the vehicle, leading to a protracted legal battle.

VID proceeded to charge Gambiza with daily storage charges, which ballooned to $16 000 for a car with a value of $6 000.

“Through his lawyers, Mhaka Attorneys, Gambiza said VID had acted like police, prosecutor and judge by taking his vehicle, refusing to release it and trying to force him to pay a fine, which was not provided for at law.

“Our client has always insisted on being summoned to court if the VID alleges that he has committed an offence. What he is against is a prohibition to remove his vehicle to an appropriate place. He finds it in bad taste for anyone to ask him to pay storage charges for a vehicle that was kept at VID in acts of unlawful abuse of official duty contrary to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9.23,” read part of the submissions to the court.

Gambiza said VID was not a competent court of law and had no legal right to hold his vehicle especially when he was denying that he committed a crime.

“We may as well point out that Mrs Nyati has no right whatsoever to perpetually detain our client’s vehicle even if she believes he has committed an offence. Every citizen has a right to have his case determined at a court of law,” the lawyers submitted.

Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza, Justice Tendai Uchena and Justice Frances Bere, sitting in the Supreme Court, of appeal case SCNo.61/17, found against the Transport ministry and Nyati, ordering them to release Gambiza’s vehicle and pay costs of suit, ending a bitter three-year wrangle.

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