Speeding ruling could open class action door
A JOHANNESBURG court ruling that a speeding fine had been issued illegally, could lay the country’s law enforcement agencies open to a massive class action lawsuit.
Last August Johannesburg driver Anthony O’Moore was charged with reckless and negligent driving after being pulled over at a mobile speed trap. He was held for 14 hours by metro police who ignored his protests that he was diabetic and had been rushing to fetch an emergency insulin injection for himself when pulled over.
The Randburg Magistrate’s Court this week ruled correct procedure had not been followed by the metro police in setting up and testing the mobile units.
O’Moore’s attorney, Anton Burger, said the ruling established an important precedent, and meant the justice system could face a major class action lawsuit for people caught in similar speed traps.
On the day of the O’Moore ruling, the State declined to prosecute any further speeding charges at the Randburg court.
Burger said the O’Moore judgment was given on the basis of an earlier ruling. “In the State versus Snyman in 2001 it was found that the prosecution guidelines must be followed.” Failure to do so could result in evidence being inadmissible in court.
Among the stipulations of the Technical Committee of Standards and Procedures guidelines endorsed in the Snyman judgment stipulates are:
A valid calibration certificate must be available on the site for each camera, along with the operator’s competency certificate. The driver must be given the opportunity to review both the speed reading and the certificates.
The camera must be mounted on a “firm and stable surface” and, if mounted in or on a vehicle, that vehicle must be stabilised.
Testing of the instrument must be done before and after every shift, and every time the instrument is moved.
A permit to conduct speed trapping in a specific area must be obtained from the National Prosecuting Authority.
Burger said that in the O’Moore case there was no certificate available to prove the camera had been properly calibrated within the preceding six months; the mobile units had not been properly tested prior to being used; and the photographs recording the alleged speeding were not up to standard.
He said: “The ruling will affect people in the entire country. These people were arrested, they paid fines, in some cases in excess of R5 000 or R6 000. Some of them spent the night in jail and had to pay bail. There is potential for an enormous class action lawsuit.”
National Transport Department spokesman Logan Maistry said the department would “study the ruling to determine whether or not the acquittal was based purely on the provisions of the Technical Committee’s guidelines”.
These were “operational guidelines only and non-compliance does not influence the accuracy or reliability of meas- urement results”.
He said it “does not automatically follow that all other similar cases must be withdrawn” and if need be, after consultation with the National Prosecuting Authority and the Justice Department, they would recharge all offending motorists.
Dennis Jackson, assistant national director of the Justice Project of South Africa, which campaigns against the use of mobile speed cameras on the basis of unreliability, said the issuing of speeding fines was a “money-making scheme”.
Jackson said that while Johannesburg was known for the “unscrupulous issuing of speeding tickets”, Cape Town was “just as bad.”
Jackson worked in traffic control for around 30 years.
Cape Town traffic spokeswoman Merle Lourens said that 124 000 traffic violations were registered in the city each month, of which 78 000, or around 60%, were speeding violations. Speeding fines net the city an average of R8.2 million a month.
COVER-UP: A file photograph from 2004 shows this traffic officer hiding under a tarpaulin on the West Coast road. He was so well hidden that he left many motorists baffled. The picture was taken by a motorist who tracked him down after receiving several fines on the road.