By Somapala Gunadheera –
Listening to the budget speech, I was surprised to hear a proposal to increase traffic fines included it. The Government claims to be compelled to impose more and more taxes to meet the extravagant and wasteful expenses incurred by the previous regime. The opposite claim is that the increases are caused by mismanagement and corruption.
It is not my purpose here, to decide between these two claims. I make no bones about the Government collecting funds for its survival. My concern, as a lawyer, pertains to the legality of the method of collection. It is common knowledge that road offences are a part of the criminal law of the land. They are provided for by legislation introduced by the Ministry of Justice, no doubt under advice from the Judiciary and experts in Jurisprudence.
The prime purpose of Criminal Law is to regulate behavior, never to collect revenue. A problem arises when an instrument intended to collect taxes proposes to achieve its purpose by collaterally changing the criminal law process, reminiscent of the famous Aesop’s tale about the dog and the donkey. When the move is made by the national budget, it becomes a clear usurpation of the judicial process for financial gain.
I dare say that vehicle drivers often violate the rights of road users though negligent and rash driving. The Government has a duty to intervene by being alive to the situation and taking legislative measures to correct it. But there is a lawful process prescribed for the purpose. As pointed out above, it is principally, a matter for the Ministry of Justice which has the duty and the right to change the criminal law in the interest of civic life but not to make money in the process. In fact the same amount could have been lawfully collected if the imposition was made under the motor traffic law.
When that role is usurped by a third party as a part of the revenue collection process, there arises a clear case of violation of the human rights of road users. Bus cartels are raising cane about the Budget raising the minimum fine on road offences. In the process they are victimizing innocent road users going about to make ends meet in a challenging atmosphere. If the Government, with its ready excess to a plethora of legal experts, does not see its paus pas even at this late stage and take steps to rectify it, the best resolution of this problem appears to lie in invoking the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
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