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New ticket system fair: ministry

May 10 2012

The B.C. government denied concerns that it is trying to assert more control over traffic-ticket appeals, saying overthephone disputes would be handled by an independent tribunal.

The Justice Ministry's proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, unveiled this week, would remove traffic-ticket disputes from the courts in favour of an administrative process.

Critics say the process could sacrifice justice in favour of administrative convenience and takes away a person's right to a fair hearing.

But the Justice Ministry insists the process is still fair and that the complainant can still submit evidence, even if it is over the phone or in writing.

Anyone who wants to dispute a ticket can ask for a resolution conference with the Motor Vehicle Branch over the phone or in writing. Drivers may get a reduction in the fine or offered more time to pay.

"This step will include education on traffic safety aimed at changing poor driving behaviour, the opportunity to resolve the matter with a resolution officer [as opposed to negotiating with a uniformed police officer in the hallway of the courthouse]," a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

If the driver still isn't happy, they can go before an independent tribunal for a final review over the phone, electronically, in writing or in person.

The driving notice review board will be independent from the Office of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, the ministry spokesperson said, and its members will be appointed by cabinet and have expertise in administrative justice, road safety and traffic law.

The complainant will be allowed to submit evidence such as oral or written testimony, pictures and diagrams. The enforcement officer would also submit sworn testimony.

But Micheal Vonn, policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the process does not allow someone with a ticket to ask questions in person of the officer who issued the infraction. "It boils down to 'we're right and if you don't believe us, just ask us,' " Vonn said.

The changes are aimed at easing the backlogs in the court system and reducing the time it takes to resolve disputed tickets to 90 days down from seven to 18 months. About 14 per cent, or 70,000 of the 500,000 traffic tickets issued each year in B.C., are disputed in traffic court.

The government said the new process would also save taxpayers millions of dollars by freeing up justices of the peace and court registry staff and saving police officers from having to testify in traffic court.

The government hopes a discount offered to those who pay their fines immediately online will lead to fewer disputed traffic tickets.

"As well, we expect fewer people will attempt to dispute tickets for reasons unrelated to the substance of the ticket, such as hoping that a time delay or an officer's inability to attend traffic court leads to the cancellation of a ticket," the spokesperson said.

The ministry said it was too early to speculate whether additional staff would be needed at the Motor Vehicle Branch, adding the changes likely won't take place until 2014.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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