Judge rules Licensing Authority policy 'unfair'

Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams - File photo
Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams - File photo

The High Court has deemed unfair, illegal and irrational a Licensing Authority policy to prevent transactions involving a vehicle until all traffic tickets issued to drivers are paid.

In a written ruling, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams also held that the policy of stopping all transactions on a vehicle involved in a traffic offence once the traffic ticket remained unpaid was also unfair, illegal and irrational.

She further ordered the Transport Commissioner to pay $12,600 in compensation to auto body mechanic Neil Thomas as she held that his right to use and enjoy the car he bought in 2022 and other constitutional rights were infringed because of the policy.

Thomas had bought the car from a woman in July 2022, and went to the Licensing Authority’s office on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, to have it transferred.

A licensing officer inspected the car and transferred it to Thomas.

On February 13, 2023, Thomas received a fixed-penalty traffic ticket from a traffic warden for using his cellphone while driving. He paid for that ticket.

However, on March 14, 2023, when he went to get his car inspected at a private garage, the inspector told him the online system showed there was an outstanding ticket and fine of $10,000 on his car, which must be paid before the car could be inspected.

That ticket was issued to a man who had the previous owner’s permission to drive the vehicle. Thomas was unable to pay that ticket because of financial constraints.

The State conceded that Thomas was entitled to all but one of the reliefs he sought.

Testifying before the judge was Transport Commissioner Clive Clarke. He explained where a traffic violator does not pay the penalty or challenge the fixed-penalty notice, a sanction is imposed on the vehicle after notice is given.

Where the owner and driver are not the same, the cessation of all transactions is lifted either immediately or within 25 hours.

In Thomas’s case, the State accepted the policy was incorrectly applied to him. It was for this reason the judge declared that the policy under which unpaid traffic tickets act as a legal charge or encumbrance on a vehicle was unfair, illegal and irrational.

The policy was amended to only relate to traffic violations where the ownership of the vehicle was not transferred or changed.

“The system has now changed and before a sanction is imposed and a decision is taken to cease all transactions in respect of the vehicle, a check will first be made to ensure that there was no change of ownership.

“If there is a change, there will be no cessation of transactions in respect of the vehicle but the sanction will remain with the driver...

“Teething problems at the commencement and implementation of new systems are not unexpected. What is hoped is that no harm is done to the users. Unfortunately, the claimant was one person harmed,” the judge said as she applauded the introduction of new measures geared towards improving the enforcement of traffic offences with the ultimate goal of reducing traffic violations.

“The changes in the system were put in place to ensure the safety of all road users.”

She also suggested the Transport Commissioner and the State take a closer look at the policies on the enforcement process.

At the trial, it was submitted that the notice of the unpaid traffic ticket to the driver who had been authorised by the car’s previous owner was published in the newspaper and the Ministry of Works and Transport website, since the authorities were unable to post the ticket to him.

However, the judge said publication in the newspaper and on the ministry’s website of the “notice” to the errant driver or owner did not satisfy the legal requirement for notice in writing as prescribed by the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act.

“Further, the act does not allow the Licensing Authority to designate an area as ‘high risk’ thereby permitting the issuing of the notice to the driver or owner, as the case may be, by alternative means.”

Thomas was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Natasha Bisram, Kent Samlal, Robert Abdool-Mithcell, Jayanti Lutchmedial and Vishaal Siewsaran.

Representing the Transport Commissioner and the State were Ravindra Nanga, Niquelle Nelson Granville and Laura Persad.


"Judge rules Licensing Authority policy ‘unfair’"

More in this section