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Attorney-General Asks Ghana Police to Stop Impounding Vehicles For Minor Road Traffic Offences

In a letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Godfred Dame said that a careful examination of L.I. 2180 will disclose that the violations, for which police officers regularly impound vehicles are misdemeanours.

The Attorney-General, Godfred Dame, has called on the Ghana Police Service to desist from using the Road Traffic Regulations 2012 (L.I. 2180) to impound vehicles for minor offences such as crossing the red light or driving a vehicle without a valid insurance certificate.

In a letter to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Godfred Dame said that a careful examination of L.I. 2180 will disclose that the violations, for which police officers regularly impound vehicles are misdemeanours.

“It is thus beyond doubt that the violations – the subject matter of this letter are misdemeanours.

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An application of the road traffic regulations, particularly Regulation 158 requires fairness, candour and reasonableness. The impounding of a vehicle is not necessary for proof of a violation of any of the rules contained in Regulation 158 or indeed, most of the provisions in L.I. 2180. Thus, a position that the vehicle is required to be used as “an exhibit” in court is untenable and unreasonable,” he said.

He further said: “As Attorney-General and the principal legal adviser to the Government, I advise that police officers should desist from the impounding or prohibition of the use of a motor vehicle for minor offences such as an alleged violation of any of the rules of the road contained in Regulation 106, and other provisions pertaining to crossing the red light or driving a vehicle without a valid insurance certificate, etc.”

Read the full letter below;

Impounding of or prohibition of the use of Motor Vehicles for Minor violations of road traffic regulations.

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I wish your good self and the Ghana Police Service a Happy New Year.

The Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice has received incessant complaints from members of the public including lawyers and senior public officials about the tendency of officers of the Ghana Police Service to impound or prohibit the use of motor vehicles deemed to have violated provisions of the Road Traffic Regulations 2012 (L.I. 2180).

The provisions of L.I. 2180 under which police officers regularly exercise the discretion to impound vehicles, relate to alleged violations of the “Rules of the road” contained in Regulation 106, and other provisions pertaining to crossing the red light or driving a vehicle without a valid insurance certificate. A reason often advanced by police officers for impounding a vehicle is the necessity to “use the vehicle as an exhibit” in court proceedings.

Whilst noting the mandate of personnel of the Ghana Police Service, we observe that relevant provisions of Regulation 158 of L.I. 2180 which govern the power to inspect, impound and prohibit the use of motor vehicles stipulate as follows:

*158(1) An examiner, an authorised vehicle inspector appointed by the Licensing Authority or a police officer may inspect a motor vehicle or a trailer to ascertain whether the provisions of the Act or a regulation made or permit issued under the Act are being complied with.

(2) in the event of non-compliance, on examiner authorised by the Licensing Authority or a police officer not below the rank of inspector may by order in writing prohibit the further use of the motor vehicle or the trailer until the provision has been complied with.

(5) Where a motor vehicle or trailer is found parked on a road, a police officer may impound the motor vehicle or trailer or cause it to be taken to a police station or place of safety and be detained there until the owner of the motor vehicle or trailer and the person driving the motor vehicle or responsible for the trailer can be identified and dealt with as provided for under these Regulations.

(7) A person who contravenes this regulation commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than twenty five penalty units and not more than fifty penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than three months or to both.”

A careful examination of L.I. 2180 will disclose that the violations, for which police officers regularly impound vehicles, including Regulation 106 (Rules of the road) and other provisions relating to ignoring red light and driving without a valid insurance, are misdemeanours. This is easily discernible from the prescribed punishment of a maximum of fifty penalty units, or a term of imprisonment of not more than three months or to both. By virtue of section 1 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), a “misdemeanour” is construed in accordance with section 296 of the Criminal and Other Offences (Procedure) Act, 1960 (Act 30). Section 296(4) of Act 30 stipulates as follows:

“Where a criminal offence which is not an offence mentioned in subsection (5), is declared by an enactment to be a misdemeanour and the punishment for that offence is not specified, a person convicted of that offence is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years.”

It is thus beyond doubt that the violations – the subject matter of this letter are misdemeanours.

An application of the road traffic regulations, particularly Regulation 158 requires fairness, candour and reasonableness. The impounding of a vehicle is not necessary for proof of a violation of any of the rules contained in Regulation 158 or indeed, most of the provisions in L.I. 2180. Thus, a position that the vehicle is required to be used as “an exhibit” in court is untenable and unreasonable.

As Attorney-General and the principal legal adviser to the Government, I advise that police officers should desist from the impounding or prohibition of the use of a motor vehicle for minor offences such as an alleged violation of any of the rules of the road contained in Regulation 106, and other provisions pertaining to crossing the red light or driving a vehicle without a valid insurance certificate, etc.

An unreasonable exercise of discretion or a failure to adhere to the advice herein has the tendency to result in unnecessary suits against the Government, occasioning needless expense and potentially avoidable judgment debts. The Office of the Attorney-General is already inundated with many suits arising from wrongful exercise of discretion and negligence by police officers. Further, ought to be noted that responsibility for maintaining the condition of an impounded vehicle shifts from the owner of the vehicle to the State. Impounded vehicles are exposed to the risks of deterioration and theft of essential parts.

Accept the assurances of my highest esteem.

Godfred Yeboah Dame

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice

 

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