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LASTMA lacks the power to impose fines, and tow vehicles Without Court Order – Judge

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The Lagos State High Court sitting in the Ikeja area has declared unconstitutional, the powers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to impose fines on motorists suspected to have committed traffic offences without a valid order of the court.

Justice Olalekan Oresanya made the declaration while delivering judgment in a suit filed by a motorist, Lawal Aliyu against LASTMA, the Lagos State Government, and the state’s Attorney General.

The judge held that the applicant ought to have been arraigned before a competent court before he can be penalised for any traffic offence.

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Aliyu had filed the suit seeking a declaration that the obstruction, towage seizure, and impoundment of his car with registration NO AGL 93 DW on November 23, 2021, by the LASTMA officials is unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional, and the same amount to gross violation of his fundamental right to freedom of movement enshrined in section 41 of the 1999 constitution.

The applicant also asked the court for a declaration that the forceful imposition and enforcement of LASTMA fine in the sum of N20,000.00 and LASTMA Towing Fine in the sum of N10,000.00 on the Applicant by the respondents without an order of a court of competent jurisdiction, is unlawful, illegal unconstitutional and a breach of his right to fair hearing as enshrined in section 36 of the 1999 constitution.

He further demanded for the sum of N5m as damages against the respondents jointly and severally for breach of his fundamental rights.

In his judgment, Justice Oresanya identified and resolved all three issues in the matter in favour of the Aliyu, relying on Sections 34, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), among others.

On issue one regarding the question of whether the obstruction, towage, seizure and impoundment of the applicant’s car was unlawful, the court held that from the available evidence, the respondents failed to establish any fact to justify their action and that there was no part of the Lagos State Traffic Management Law (2018) that permits the derogation of the applicant’s right to freedom of movement.

The judge also held, “public authorities and bodies cannot act in a manner that is inconsistent and incompatible with the fundamental rights of citizens as guaranteed by the constitution, which is the grundnorm;

Even in the jurisdiction where parliamentary laws/statutes are supreme, such as the United Kingdom, public bodies must not act in a manner that is incompatible with the conventional rights of citizens as embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which has now been incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right being an equivalent of the ECHR and which has now being codified into the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2004 being the equivalence law,” the judge held.

On the second issue regarding the fine and towing fee imposed on the applicant, the court said a careful perusal of Section 27 (1) b, c, d, and e of Traffic Management Law relied upon by the respondents revealed that LASTMA cannot impose fine without arraigning an alleged traffic offender in court and that doing so amounted to ignoring fair hearing and being a judge in one’s course.

The judge condemned LASTMA for the practice of forcefully towing vehicles of alleged traffic offenders who do not resist arrest, saying it is the height of oppression.

He held, “I must add that it is strange and bizarre that the first respondent (LASTMA) towed a serviceable vehicle in good working condition and thereby cause damage to the vehicle in the process when it has not been established that the Applicant resisted the arrest of his vehicle, only for the first respondent to subsequently impose a fine on the applicant for a service not solicited by the Applicant. To my mind, this is the height of oppression and impunity and it is condemnable.”

On the last issue, as to whether the applicant was entitled to compensation and damages for breach of his fundamental rights, the court stated that “having resolved issues one and two in favour of the applicant, it follows that the applicant is naturally entitled to damages in compensation.

“On the whole, I give judgment for the applicant in the following terms, I make a declaration that the obstruction, towage, seizure, and impoundment of the applicant’s car with Registration NO. AGL 93 DW on the 23rd November 2021 by the respondents is unlawful, illegal, and unconstitutional as same amounted to a gross violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to freedom of movement enshrined in Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“I make a declaration that the imposition and enforcement of LASTMA fine in the sum of N20,000.00 and LASTMA Towing fine in the sum of N10,000.00 on the applicant without an order of a court of competent jurisdiction is unlawful, Illegal and null and void and the said fines should be paid back by the respondents to the applicant.

“The sum of N750,000 compensatory damages is awarded against the Respondents for the violation of the Applicant’s fundamental rights,” Justice Oresanya held.

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