SA-BEST warns proposed new speed guns law will be the end of the road for legal challenges
SA-BEST has raised serious concerns about changes to the Road Traffic Act the State Government wants to rush through Parliament this week to allow police to start reusing hand-held speed cameras as soon as possible.
After fines were successfully challenged by drivers, SAPOL announced last week it had temporarily stopped using handheld speed detection laser guns and was withdrawing 125 prosecutions until the amendments could be made to resolve “complex legal issues” regarding certificates that claimed the devices were properly tested.
SA-BEST MLC and Police spokesperson, Frank Pangallo, who is also a member of the Crime and Public Integrity Committee, said he has serious reservations about the Bill in its current form which he says is designed more to discourage further challenges from drivers who question the accuracy of the LIDAR devices.
“If the Bill is passed it would require a certificate to be issued by the Police Commissioner to say the device was tested to the manufacturer’s and Australian standards which would then apply for 12 months,” Frank said.
“However, it is unclear what Australian standard they are talking about and you will need to trust that the test had been done by the police because there is no obligation to regularly test and calibrate the equipment,” he said.
“Should a driver challenge the infringement notice, they would then be required to engage an expert - at considerable cost running in to several thousand dollars - to determine whether or not the device had been properly operated.
“If in court it is determined that the police officer didn’t use the device properly, or not at all, why would you still then need to go to the enormous expense of getting an expert just to say that?
“However, it would be unlikely a charged driver could find an independent ‘expert’ willing to give evidence - if any exist - because they either work with or for the police, or the manufacturer of the device.
“It wouldn’t be worth going to such a huge expense for a fine of a few hundred dollars.
“This is what SAPOL is hoping to achieve because there have been cases won after the court was able to determine that the tests didn’t occur, or if they did, could not establish the accuracy.”
The accuracy and the use of the hand-held guns was brought into question after the Supreme Court found a driver’s charge of speeding at 102km/h in a 50km/h zone in 2012 was invalid because police could not produce certificates which proved regular testing was done.
Frank said in the past, police have successfully challenged expert witnesses presented by litigants in the magistrates court because they were not trained to operate the device.
Police also refused to allow them to inspect and test the devices independently or have full access to the device’s operating manual.
“There is no commitment that speed guns will be properly analysed and checked for accuracy under National Association of Testing Authority standards. The draft Bill only says Australian Standard,” Frank said.
With just three Parliamentary sitting days left for 2018, Frank also questioned the timing of the Bill which Police Minister, Corey Wingard, plans to introduce in the House of Assembly tomorrow and then for it to be rushed through to the Legislative Council.
“SAPOL knew it had a problem for some years but this ‘quick fix’ suddenly pops up with just three days left to analyse the proposed changes to the Act, along with other urgent legislation the government wants passed,” Frank said.
“It is crucial that this current problem is corrected as soon as practical – but not before proper and considered consultation,” he said.
“All forms of preventing motorists from speeding – including the use of hand held speed cameras – are an integral part of the police’s arsenal to keep our roads, road users and the community safe and we support them.
“However, the public needs more than just assurances that the equipment is being properly maintained and tested to an accepted standard.”
Barrister Karen Stanley also has serious concerns about the government’s proposed changes.
“The government’s proposed new Bill hasn’t addressed any of the concerns raised by the Supreme Court – it just changes the law, not the problem,” Karen said.
“I believe the announcement was made last week because SAPOL realised it couldn’t find an expert to give the evidence needed, so it has just shifted that burden to the defendant,” she said.
“The Minister need to be asked about whatever became of the expert and why the Bill just shifts that responsibility to a defendant.”