Thank you for reading this post. Don't forget to subscribe!
In a groundbreaking development, the government has conceded that it must refund a significant portion of traffic ticket fines collected over a 15-year period due to legislative missteps brought to light by a tenacious motorist.
The lawsuit, filed in 2021 by Maurice Housen, a software engineer, has legal experts predicting potential costs in the hundreds of millions for taxpayers, making it a case of immense importance.
Housen’s contention revolves around a $5,000 speeding ticket issued to him on July 5, 2021, which he claims was unlawful due to missteps in the process of increasing fines for traffic offences as mandated by Section 116 of the 1938 Road Traffic Act (RTA).
According to his argument, the fines were illegally increased by the then Finance Minister, Dr Omar Davies, in 2006 and 2007, as though they were taxes or duties under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. Housen’s legal team, comprising attorneys Gavin Goffe, Jahmar Clarke, and Matthew Royal from the prestigious law firm Myers, Fletcher and Gordon, strongly asserts that the Minister of Finance lacks the authority to alter fines or fix penalties under the Road Traffic Act.
In response to mounting pressure, the Government convened a marathon session of the legislature, even holding an unusual Friday meeting of the Lower House in November 2021, to pass a bill rectifying the misstep. This move came shortly after the Supreme Court granted Housen an injunction, prohibiting the police from issuing tickets with fines exceeding the 2006 rates.
Housen’s lawsuit seeks, among other things, a refund for motorists who were unlawfully fined during the 15-year period leading up to 2021. He also demands a declaration that the imposition of these “illegal” penalties violated his constitutional right to due process.
Recently, the Government’s stance seemed to change when the director of state proceedings filed amended skeleton arguments indicating that motorists are “entitled” to some refund of fines imposed during the period.
The filing clarified that affected individuals are eligible for the difference between the amount prescribed in the relevant act and the amount stated on their ticket.
As this case transforms into a class action suit, with Housen representing motorists who received tickets with fines exceeding pre-2006 rates, legal experts foresee a potential “big payday” for citizens ticketed between 2006 and 2021 if the court rules in favour of Housen’s constitutional claims.
In 2021 alone, the police issued a staggering 476,879 traffic tickets, marking an 18% increase from the previous year, as reported by the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (ESSJ). These tickets amounted to fines totalling $968 million for various traffic offences, with 27.4% attributed to failure to wear a seatbelt and 10.7% for excessive speeding.
Should the court rule in Housen’s favour, the Government will likely be obligated to establish a mechanism for processing refunds. However, some speculate that the Government may hope that the majority of affected individuals won’t pursue a refund, potentially avoiding further complications.
Don’t miss the upcoming hearing in October, as this case continues to captivate the nation, offering hope for justice and compensation for countless motorists affected by the alleged legislative missteps.