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No. You can only be arrested if you have ignored a summons to appear in court, and as a result a warrant had been issued by a magistrate for your arrest. You cannot be arrested simply because you have “unpaid tickets.”

A notification that was sent to you through the post is not a legally served summons. For a summons to be properly served, it will must been signed for by the accused or a person over 16 years of age at his or her home or place of work.1 This summons must indicate a specific court and a date on which one is to appear. Take note that a fine issued to you in person by a traffic official usually already indicates the date you must appear in court, and is a legally served summons.

You are entitled to ask for a copy of the warrant of arrest or written authorisation by a magistrate or peace officer.2 If the traffic official making an arrest refuses or cannot provide you with a copy of the summons immediately, the arrest and subsequent detention is unlawful, even if there turns out to be a valid warrant. 3

The unlawfulness of the arrest and detention of the arrestee will not necessarily affect the liability of the accused for the relevant traffic violation or failure to appear in court. When any person had been unlawfully arrested and detained, they may have a claim for compensation against the state for damages suffered.

Persons arrested by traffic officers should be taken immediately to a South African Police Service station or the court that issued the warrant. Traffic departments are not allowed to lock a person up at the roadside while they carry on with their roadblock,4 and they may not take a person to a bank teller to draw cash to pay the “fines”. The only purpose of an arrest is to bring a person before a court for that person to be prosecuted. It is not to be used as a method to harass or frighten members of the public for them to pay their traffic fines.5

1 Sec 54(2)(a) of CPA

2 Sec 39(2) of CPA

3 Minster van Veiligheid en Sekuritiet V Rautenbach 1996 (1) SA 720 (A)

4 Mahlongwana v Kwatinidubu Town Council 1991 (1) SACR 669 E

5 Duncan v Minister of Law and Order 1984 (3) SA 460 (T)


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