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Police ‘have no right to impound vehicles’

By Zvamaida Murwira

Police in Zimbabwe have no right to impound vehicles from motorists without money to pay spot fines, a Cabinet minister has said. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa also said the public had the right to sue the police if their windscreens were smashed for no legitimate reasons.

Zimbabwe policeman falls from truck
Zimbabwe policeman falls from truck

The minister was responding to questions in Senate on Thursday. Mzilikazi Senator Matson Hlalo (MDC-T) had asked Minister Chinamasa if spot fines were legal and whether it was proper for police to impound vehicles for those motorists without money on them.

Gwabalanda Senator Agness Sibanda (MDC-T) had also asked if it was proper for police to smash kombi windscreens. In his response, Minister Chinamasa said his ministry encouraged police to impose spot fines on petty offences to avoid congesting the magistrate courts.

“Spot fines are legal and constitutional, but we must understand that a spot fine is an admission of guilt. When you are in a situation where you are alleged to have speeded and you admit it you are made to pay a spot fine. “The ticket that you sign actually says you are admitting to the offence,” he said.

He said a motorist with no money could insist that they be allowed to pay at the nearest police station when they would have secured the money. On impounding vehicles for motorists unable to pay spot fines, Chinamasa said while he had not made adequate research on the law, his view was that it was illegal.

“I need to look at that, but off the cuff, I would not think that they have got the power to impound. My off-the-cuff answer is that, they do not have that power but I could be wrong. I need to find out because I do not find the justification for impounding the vehicle worth US$20 000 for a spot fine of US$20. It is so disproportionate,” he said.

The minister said the prudence of imposing spot fines was that the police did not have enough mechanism to trace a person to ensure that the fine is eventually paid. It was noted that 99 percent of those ticketed did not subsequently pay their fines.

“That is basically the headache the police have. If you do not follow up a crime and you do not enforce, it will lead to contempt of the law,” he said.

On smashing of windscreens, Minister Chinamasa described it as “harassment and intimidation”.

“No one has the right to break other people’s property. So if there are instances where any police officers have broken or damaged any person’s property, they are entitled, those who are affected or those who are aggrieved to take those matters to a civil court and sue the police for damages.

“Those are your rights and you should be able to enforce your rights,” he said. Police have already said spot fines would remain in force because people ignored or never bothered to pay after being penalised for committing traffic offences. The Herald

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