Traffic tickets ‘fiasco’ explained: Another insight into disjointed public administration

For completeness, let me share what the Court Management System (CMS) issued yesterday (and was reported in both the Jamaica Observer and Gleaner, but replicated in full below–the bold highlights are mine for emphasis) in an effort to calm the public outrage about seemingly light fines or sentences for traffic violations. This is the ‘voice’ of the Judiciary, not that of the police force (and by extension the Ministry of National Security) which put information into the public domain, initially. So, its efforts ‘to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media’ is pointing an invisible finger at the JCF for its somewhat jubilant but unvarnished reporting of the traffic fines, such this Twitter post on October 17:

If I accept these clarifications, then my analysis in a blog post last week that we were seeing a disguised amnesty is incorrect. I hope, though, that we are kept abreast of how this process develops, in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, because a lot of money is at stake if the underlying fines are not paid.

Court Management System (CMS) statement:

Following the extensive discussions in the public domain in respect of fines being imposed on Motorists who have been issued with hundreds of traffic tickets, the Judiciary would like to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media. The misinformation, we believe, is as a result of the release of incomplete information to the public.

The following should provide clarity on some issues raised in the ongoing public discussion on this matter:

  1. Outstanding Tickets
  • Each outstanding ticket relates to a separate charge. A number of the motorists who have hundreds or over a thousand tickets have accumulated them over several years, (in at least one case from as far back as 2010), and in more than one parishes.
  • Each Parish Court can only deal with those tickets issued within the parish for which that court has jurisdiction. Motorists who have accumulated tickets in different parishes have to attend court in each parish to answer to the tickets issued in that parish
  • Each outstanding ticket has to be located and relisted for hearing. If a motorist pleads not guilty, the matter has to be tried. For there to be a trial, the policeman who issued the ticket has to provide a statement, if one was not initially provided.

      2. Executed Warrants

  • When a motorist is brought before the court on an executed warrant, he only answers to the particular offence(s) listed on that warrant. For example, someone who has five hundred (500) outstanding tickets who is brought to court on three executed warrants, will only answer to the charges on those warrants and not all their outstanding tickets. The court can only deal with the offences listed before it. The other tickets remain outstanding for future adjudication. It is therefore inaccurate that the courts are giving discounted fines to persistent traffic offenders.

      3. Guilty Pleas

  • Once a motorist who is brought before the court on an executed warrant, pleads guilty to the listed offences and fines are imposed and paid, the court has no power to further detain the person on any other outstanding matter(s) unless another warrant is executed on the defendant.

      4. Available Sentencing Options –

The Road Traffic Act (RTA) stipulates the penalties that can be imposed:

  • Most ticketable offences do not carry the option of a custodial sentence regardless of how many times an offender has been ticketed.
  • The penalty is usually limited to a fine. The courts are not empowered to increase these fines.
  • In some circumstances, the court may additionally suspend the individual’s driver’s licence.
  • There are instances where the maximum fine that can be imposed by the court is less than the fine payable at the Tax Office. The offences of ‘exceeding the speed limit’ and ‘disobeying traffic signs and traffic lights’ for example, attract a lesser fine in court than at the Tax Office. If a person who is issued with a ticket for exceeding the speed limit, comes before the court, the maximum fine the court is empowered to impose under the RTA is $6,000.
  • Significantly, in respect of most ticketable offences, section 116(10) of the RTA prevents the court from considering previous offences when sentencing a motorist for a current offence, even where the previous offences are similar.

      5. Reform Initiatives

Through the joint efforts of the Ministries of National Security, Justice and the Court Management Services, a new Traffic Ticketing Management System (TTMS) will soon be commissioned. This improved system will among other enhancements:

  • Ensure that the police, tax offices and the courts all have simultaneous access to one constantly updated database showing an accurate status of paid and outstanding traffic tickets; and
  • Provide for the automatic generation of warrants for checking and signature to replace the manual completion of warrants that currently obtains.

The Judiciary of Jamaica enjoins all justice partners and stakeholders to ensure, as far as possible, that complete and accurate information is issued to the public concerning matters addressed by the courts. This will help to uphold respect for the Rule of Law and reduce the danger of the credibility of, not just the courts, but also the entire justice system being seriously undermined.

The Judiciary of Jamaica remains committed to doing our part to ensure the maintenance of law and order in our society.

This gives valuable insight into the the several aspects that go into the execution of punishment for crimes and as is somewhat typical in Jamaica points to horrible flaws and gaps in the management of ‘justice’, not least because of disjointed, even contradictory adminstrative procedures, incompatible legislation, and antiquated record-keeping. This is a microcosm of many of the things that fail in Jamaica, and no amount of urging has gotten them fixed in a hurry. The consequence in most cases is a sapping of public confidence and trust in public administration and the reaction that the system is corrupt. What we see, though, is a system that did not work properly (and its being ‘in tatters’ had been vividly shown in reports at the start of the year) and as such is another drag on attempts to change meaningfully how this country operates. Like a new born, we see nine months later the birth of the new system, and JCF acted like the jubilant parent. OK, let’s excuse what amounts to yet another misstep by Public Safety and Traffic Management Branch (PSTMB), which has managed to put its foot in its mouth frequently in recent months, further aggravating and disenchanting much of the Jamaican public.

If that seems a harsh assessment, put yourself in the shoes of the average Jamaican road user who personally endures travesties daily, and/or sees vivid evidence of a recklessness that is taking lives as if they do not matter, and in their genuine search for signs that these are being addressed then see what appears to be slaps on the wrist. What one needs to understand is that many will not see the explanations offered yesterday and will believe that the system is bent and tend to act consistently with that. News and information management is not trivial, especially in this age where it’s fast and disaggregated and checking for facts isn’t everyone’s forte and corrections can easily go unnoticed in a stream of information that’s hard to manage. Damage limitation often means taking some more time before issuing seemingly definitive releases to the public and indicating if and where gaps in that information may exist. But, of course, doing that admits to a certain fallibility that many organizations fear. Meanwhile, we the people have to deal with unnecessary confusion.



Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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