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Early Warning – Does a Traffic Fine have an Expiry Date

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One of my clients was telling me the story, the other day, of the time that he got pulled over, in what appeared to be a routine police check point.  Now I am not talking about a story that happened years ago, but rather one that has happened in the last month or two.  I know that I saw a really marked increase in the number of traffic check points along the roads over the Christmas period and the period leading up to the holidays.  In fact, coming back from visiting a client in Germiston in early December 2011, I went through a road block on the M2 (I mean the metro police were pulling people off on the highway) and on the same day there were 3 road blocks on Beyers Naude (between Auckland Park and Cresta).  Talk about overkill.  Like most people, I just put it down to the police looking to ensure that they get their annual bonus’s as this appears to be the only time that they are out in full force like this.

Anyway the story goes . . .  my client was not perturbed about going through the road block, his licenses were in order and he did not have any outstanding fines . . . or so he thought.  He was pulled over and asked to produce his driver’s license – no problem.  They checked the license disk on his windscreen – no problem.  Another member of the police force joined the fellow that was attending to him and there was a lot of loud talking and gesturing going on.  Perplexed, my client innocently asked “is there anything wrong?”  That’s when it all went pear shaped.

You see sometime in the year 2000, my client got a fine in the amount of R100.  Apparently it was posted to him and again, apparently it had not been paid.  In view of the fact that this happened 11 years ago, my client was not too concerned because debts are supposed to be prescribed after 3 years.  Isn’t that how we all understand it?  Well like my client and myself, you would also be incorrect, if this is what you thought.

Apparently, in terms of the Prescription Act (and I must admit that I haven’t read this particular Act myself, so I am going on hearsay), the Act does not make provision for the prescription period on debts to the government (both local and/or national).  There is a huge argument about whether a traffic fine (or any fine for that matter I guess) is a debt or not and there does not appear to be consensus on this.

What there is consensus about though is this – according to an article in the AA newsletter, a traffic fine is the result or consequence of an offence and as an offence “in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act it is illogical to conclude that a debt linked to a criminal offence can prescribe.”

So the bottom line is that my client (and any one else out there who has outstanding fines from long ago) is liable to pay the R100 fine.

What still amuses me of course, is the fact that it took them 11 years and a random road block to find my client.  Even stranger is that he has worked for the same company at the same business address for all that time as well as resided at the same residential address for all that time.  I guess the metro police had to dig deep into the proverbial barrel for that particular R100.