The (Local Enforcement) Board of Petitions is the government's manifest commitment towards improving the local enforcement system.
Undoubtedly, one of the things that irk John Citizen most is the undue hassle one has to go through in order to justify that a traffic contravention ticket issued is blatantly mistaken. This is often the reason why the local warden is not viewed as the guardian of law and order and an educator. This situation has given rise to the need of a remedy so that the honest citizen does not incur any additional expense or waste of time in order to contest a mistaken contravention.
After an experience of six years of the devolved function of local enforcement, an evaluation of the whole system is currently underway with a view to eliminate unnecessary cost, bureaucracies and flaws. An area that needed immediate attention was the creation of an additional tool that enables rectification of blatant mistakes (such as mistaken identities on contraventions, etc). The need was also more pressing given that such mistakes were not only causing undue hassles to the honest citizen but were also resulting in loss of credibility in the whole local enforcement system. The need to mete out justice and for justice to be seen to be done was, therefore, on the top of the agenda in the restructuring process.
From the very beginning, it was the government's intention to devolve to local councils the enforcement system of certain contraventions and this to ensure better traffic and environmental education, more discipline on the roads and more self-discipline. This devolved function was also a sign of the government's trust in the efficiency and effectiveness of local councils as part of the country's public administration. It is not surprising, therefore, that John Citizen rightly expected to be better educated and that the necessary safeguards be in place for the efficient and fair administration of justice.
There were two remedies available for a person to contest a contravention: contesting the decision before the Local Tribunal and lodging an appeal to the Court of Magistrates. In addition, the government saw fit to include a further remedy where there is a manifest mistake in the contravention.
The setting up of the Board of Petitions in January of this year (made possible through Legal Notice 414 of 2005) is an additional tool available to John Citizen who has been notified of a contravention that is manifestly erroneous, thus eliminating the need for the person to appear before the Local Tribunal.
Three petition boards were set up that are entrusted to evaluate petitions lodged by aggrieved persons. The petition has to include all the relevant references, such as contravention number, car registration number, the petitioner's identity card number, address and contact telephone number, as well as the reason for the request.
The Board of Petitions may: waive a contravention, order the discontinuance of any proceedings before a commissioner (Local Tribunal) or remit in whole or in part any financial penalty imposed by a commissioner following proceedings for an infringement relating to an offence heard by the Local Tribunal.
Once a petition is received, all proceedings are suspended. Thus, no payments should be effected by the person making the petition. If such payment is made, then this would prejudice the petitioner's case because the legal notice lays down that "no petition may be allowed once the financial penalty has been paid". Even if asked to pay the penalty in order to renew the driving licence, the petitioner should not do so and instead submit a copy of the acknowledgement issued by the registry of the Petitions Board.
By the first week last month (that is five months down the line), 1,448 petitions were received, of which 937 (65 per cent) have been decided. Of these, 490 (52.3 per cent) were accepted, 391 (41.7 per cent) were refused, 33 (3.5 per cent) were partially accepted, and 23 (2.5 per cent) were not taken into consideration as they did not fulfil the statutory requirements.
For the benefit of the citizens, it should be clarified that the petitions, in the form of a letter, should be addressed to The Registry, Board of Petitions, c/o 26 Archbishop Street, Valletta CMR 02. In case of difficulties one can phone on 2122 6534-6 and ask for the customer care section.
Mr Attard is director, Local Government Department. [email protected]