Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) is a party to legal proceedings which it instituted against the police in a case involving Sharon Moffat the centre manager for LRF Masvingo and Claudia Muvuti an LRF client whose vehicles were impounded by the police after they failed to pay spot fines. On the 9th of December Claudia Muvuti who was driving a Chrysler along Teviodale was stopped by police who indicated that his headlamp was not working and that her 3rd number plate was not properly displayed. They ordered her to pay a spot fine of $30 for the offences. She indicated that she did not have cash on her but she could pay by way of bank transfer or plastic money. The police insisted on payment of cash and when she failed to pay they impounded her vehicle and took it to Avondale police station. Claudia through her friend who had read an article by LRF on spot fines approached the LRF for assistance. LRF Legal Programmes Director Mrs. Lucia Masuka Zanhi attended to her at Avondale Police station and indicated to the police that there was no basis for the police to impound the motor vehicle. The police insisted on the payment of a spot fine and one of the police officers at Avondale indicated that they had targets to meet and that is why they were impounding cars and insisting on payment of spot fines. The LRF thus instituted legal proceedings against the police.
On the 11th of December Ms. Sharon Moffat an LRF Manager was stopped at a roadblock in Milton Park and the police officers asked her to show them the red triangles, fire extinguisher, her driver’s license, spare wheel and radio license. She complied with their request. They then went round her car clearly looking out for an offence which they could charge her with. They asked her to put her foot on the brake pad to test her stoplights. It is at this stage that they informed her that the stoplight on the right was not working. They ordered her to pay a spot fine of $10 and she indicated that she did not have any cash on her. She asked the police officers to pay later alternatively for her to use her ATM card to effect payment. The police insisted on cash payment and they refused to give her back her driver’s license which they had taken from her. They drove off and she had to follow them to Milton Police Station. They then indicated to her that they were impounding the motor vehicle which she was driving which belonged to LRF. Upon inquiring with them on the basis of impounding the vehicle the police gave her a piece of paper written Milton Park OB8676/16.
The LRF filed an urgent chamber application for the release of the two motor vehicles on the basis that there was no law which authorized the police to impound vehicles simply because a motorist had failed to pay a spot fine. The urgent chamber application was set down for hearing on the 16th of December at the High Court. Ms. Phillipa Muchemwa a lawyer at LRF, represented LRF, Sharon Moffat and Claudia Muvuti in the said matter and she was accompanied by Mrs. Lucia Masuka Zanhi. The Officers in Charge of Avondale Police Station and Milton Police Station, Minister of Home Affairs and Commissioner of Police were cited as parties and were represented by lawyers in the Civil Division at the Attorney General’s office. Just before the hearing lawyers representing the police served on LRF lawyers a docket in respect of Sharon Moffat wherein the police were charging her with driving whilst talking on her mobile phone, driving without a drivers’ license and driving a car with a malfunctioning stop light. The docket was purportedly opened on the 11th of December which is the day when Sharon Moffat was arrested. Furthermore there were two Vehicle Inspection Reports prepared by VID on the 15th of December outlining defects on the vehicles that were being driven by Sharon and Claudia. The Police had in turn prepared and issued Notices Prohibiting the Use of the two vehicles on the 15th of December a day after they were served with the urgent chamber application. It is important to note that the docket prepared in respect of Sharon Moffat did not have any of her personal details as required by the law neither was there a warned and cautioned statement recorded from Sharon an observation which pointed to the fact that the docket was prepared after the police were served with the urgent chamber application. Ms. Sharon Moffat did not commit the alleged offences apart from the offence relating to the malfunctioning stop light. The charges were thus trumped up in a bid to frustrate the application and also harass Ms. Sharon Moffat.
Upon hearing the matter Justice Phiri issued an interim order for the release of the vehicle. He further ruled that the impounding of the vehicles and the subsequent inspection of the vehicles was illegal and that the notices prohibiting the use of the vehicles were issued after the service of the urgent application and that they would in the interim be of no force and effect. In his remarks Justice Phiri expressed his dismay at the conduct of the police particularly as it relates to impounding of motor vehicles when motorists fail to pay fines.
It is disturbing to note that the police continue to impound motor vehicles as a way of compelling motorists to pay spot fines. There is no law which empowers the police to impound motor vehicles because a motorist has failed to pay a spot fine. Furthermore it is unfair and unlawful for the police to insist on payment by way of cash in a country which is hit by a cash crisis and the government has directed that institutions and corporates accept payment by way of transfers and plastic money.