On November 3, 2021, the Supreme Court ordered an injunction restraining the police force from issuing tickets with fixed penalties in excess of what is prescribed by the Road Traffic Act of 1938, as last legally amended. Last Friday, parliament set a new national record when it amended the 1938 Act to increase those fixed penalties within 1 day. Today, we take some time to explore what this all means for motorists.
An amendment to the Road Traffic Act of 1938 was urgently required because traffic fines had been improperly increased in 2006 by way of an executive order instead of by an act of Parliament. Note that traffic tickets were first introduced in Jamaica in 1993. For perspective, in 1993, the maximum speeding ticket was $500 – equivalent to US$22.52 at the time.
Initially, the government proposed to pass what is known as a ‘validation and indemnity’ law, which would have retroactively increased the fines from 2006. The intention seemed to be to neutralize the claim for a refund which is now before the court awaiting trial. However, the amendment that was debated and passed in parliament increased the fines as of November 5, 2021, leaving alive the issue of refunds with respect to tickets issued in the past 15 years.
As the claim for a refund remains to be decided by the Court, we will not be discussing that aspect of the case, save to say that the refund of anything other than a traffic ticket paid to the Collector of Taxes is not within the scope of the suit. Thus, motorists who did not pay the fine stated on the ticket but went to court and were fined by the judge would not be able to seek a refund of the fine paid in court. Also, motorists who missed the deadline for paying the ticket would still need to go to court to answer the charges.
The amendment passed last week will not allow the police to issue traffic tickets for all the offences for which they have grown accustomed. It also will not allow them to issue tickets for offences created by the Road Traffic Act, 2018, as that law has not been brought into force (save for the provisions that relate to the Island Traffic Authority). The amendment only allows them to issue tickets for the offences that are listed in that law.
The police have a mobile app called JCF Ticket Helper, that anyone can download from the Google Play Store to android smartphones. This app lists several offences that are not listed in the Appendix to the Road Traffic Act. Some common tickets that are in the app but not in law include (i) ‘failure to wear a seat belt’, for which motorists are usually fined $500; (ii) ‘motorcyclist failing to wear a protective helmet’ – $500 fine; and (iii) ‘failure to produce a certificate of fitness’ – for which motorists have been receiving a $3,000 fine. Consequent on the injunction granted by the Supreme Court, the police remain barred from issuing these tickets.
At present, and for the time being, our Road Traffic Act has some glaring anomalies and deficiencies. For example, under the 1938 Act, there is no duty to produce any document other than a driver’s licence at request of a police officer. Therefore, a motorist who has a valid, unexpired certificate of fitness or a certificate of insurance cannot lawfully be ticketed for not having either in the vehicle with them. The 2018 Road Traffic Act (which is not yet fully in force) has a provision that requires the motorist to produce on demand by a constable, their driver’s licence, the vehicle’s registration and certificate of fitness and proof of insurance cover.
Until the 2018 Act is brought into force, motorists should ‘walk with’ their copy of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2021 and protect themselves from illegal ticket
Gavin Goffe is a Partner at Myers, Fletcher and Gordon and a member of the firm’s Litigation Department (Tax Practice Group). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the firm’s website www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice