Lawyer initiates contempt action against FRSC over imposition of fines
A Lagos lawyer, Tope Alabi, has initiated contempt proceedings against the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) Chief Executive, Boboye Oyeyemi, for allegedly disobeying a court order barring the corps’ imposition of fines on motorists.
The Federal High Court in Lagos, last September 26, nullified FRSC’s powers to fine motorists for violating traffic rules. Justice John Tsoho held that only a court of law can pronounce a motorist or driver guilty of violating traffic rules and order him or her to pay a fine.
The judge, who delivered the verdict in a suit filed by Alabi, said FRSC is not empowered to impose fines under sections 10 (4) and 28 (2) of the FRSC (Establishment) Act 2007 because it is not a court.
According to the judge, FRSC can arrest motorists for traffic offences, but it must take them to a mobile or other court which has the powers punish traffic offenders.
Alabi is contending that FRSC officials have not complied with the judgment which he said is yet to be set aside by the Court of Appeal. Besides, he said FRSC did not apply for or obtain any stay of execution of the judgment.
Therefore, he filed a Notice of Consequences of Disobedience to Order of Court, dated August 20. The notice warns that the Corps Marshal Oyeyemi will be held liable for contempt if his men continue to violate the order by arresting and imposing fines on erring motorists without taking them to court.
It reads: “Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in this order, you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison.”
Justice Tsoho had held that FRSC cannot turn itself into a court of law by punishing those that commit traffic offences. Alabi had prayed the court to declare that only a court of competent jurisdiction can pronounce a person guilty under Section 10 (4) and 28 (2) of the FRSC (Establishment Act) 2007 and Regulation 143 of the Nigerian Roads Traffic Regulation, 2011.
The judge declared the sections null and void for being inconsistent with Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution. He also awarded N1million damages to the plaintiff because FRSC confiscated his vehicle and driver’s licence for an alleged traffic offence.
Justice Tsoho said while FRSC is statutorily empowered to arrest traffic offenders, a closer look at the definition of the word “fine” means ‘a pecuniary criminal punishment or civil penalty payable to the public treasury.’
He held: “In the instance case, however, the involvement of the element of arrest takes the imposition of fine by the second defendant (FRSC) to the realm of criminal punishment.
It is noteworthy that a fine, when viewed from that perspective, is a component of sentence. “From these definitions, it is obvious that the act of sentencing is a judicial action or exercise. Imposition of fine connotes conviction for an alleged offence.
This presupposes a trial and conviction of the person fined, especially having regard to the definition of sentencing. “It is, thus, very clear that the FRSC, not being a court of law, cannot impose fine, especially that it has no powers to conduct trial. “Hence, the exercise of the statutory powers given to the second defendant under the Act pertaining to imposition of fine is clearly a usurpation of judicial powers exclusively vested in the courts.”