TAXI operators have filed a High Court application to stop the Mobile Traffic Court from operating as they say it is a “mockery of justice” only aimed at extorting money from motorists.
The application by the Maseru Region Taxi Operators’ (MRTO) comes just over a month after the Mobile Traffic Court was launched on 30 June 2020 to try traffic offences on the spot and reduce the huge backlog of traffic cases at the magistrates’ courts. The court is supposed to have a prosecutor and a magistrate to expeditiously try cases.
But barely five weeks after its launch, the court has been roundly condemned by motorists across the country to a point where they have created groups on Facebook and WhatsApp dubbed Iveco Updates where they notify each other about its whereabouts. The groups are meant to alert motorists to avoid whatever route the court would be operating from on any particular day.
The MRTO has taken the issue a step further by launching a court application to stop the Mobile Traffic Court from operating. In its papers, the MRTO accuses Mobile Traffic Court of extorting money from motorists.
The taxi operators intend to move their application on Monday through their lawyer, Advocate Salemane Phafane KC.
The co-applicants in the matter are MRTO members, Ntsebe Tsotako and Thabiso Makoanyane. They say they have fallen victim to the mobile court.
The Road Fund, the Chief Magistrate, the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli, the Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane and Attorney General Adv Haae Phoofolo are the first to fifth respondents respectively in the matter.
The taxi operators argue that the court does not have a magistrate to preside over the traffic cases, therefore motorists are not given a chance to defend themselves. According to the applicants, motorists who are brought before the mobile court appear before police officers and a prosecutor who give them the option of either paying a fine or going to jail.
“It is clear that the first respondent (Road Fund) and the government have gone all out to run a cash-spinning machine from members of the first applicant (MRTO) styled as the “mobile court” which has no respect for the citizens’ constitutional rights to a fair trial,” MRTO chairperson Mokete Jonase states in his application.
“They also operate in total disregard of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. They are operating and applying the law of the jungle which is totally unlawful. The mobile court is wreaking havoc in all the districts.
“It is continuously extorting a lot of money particularly from public transport operators and members of the MRTO. These traders are unable to carry on their business and are in dire need of the honourable court’s intervention.”
Mr Jonase states that he is not aware of any law establishing the mobile court with unlimited territorial jurisdiction throughout the country. In the absence of such a law, he argues, the operations of the court are clearly unlawful.
“It is definitely not a High Court which is the only court that has inherent and unlimited jurisdiction.”
He said the mobile court had to be stopped so that motorists can drive freely in accordance with the country’s laws.
He detailed an incident where Mr Tsotako was stopped and arraigned before a prosecutor and police officers without a presiding magistrate on 13 July 2020. On the day, the fitness certificate of Mr Tsotako’s vehicle had expired.
Mr Tsotako allegedly tried to explain that his vehicle did not have a fitness certificate only because the Ministry of Transport did not have stationary to renew fitness certificates. He was ordered to pay M500 fine or do jail time. His car would also be impounded by the police. He was left without an option but to pay the fine.
Mr Jonase states that Mr Tsotako’s experience was a “miscarriage and mockery of justice”.
“I challenge the respondents to produce a record of the said proceedings. I can say with certainty that there will be none as there was no magistrate to record the proceedings and eventually mete out the sentence of M500 that the second applicant was coerced into paying,” Mr Jonase said.