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Patrick Awong

An administrative error that led to a man being improperly detained for failing to pay a traffic ticket in 2018, is set to cost the State a little over $37,500.

Delivering a written judgement in the constitutional motion brought by Patrick Awong, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ordered the compensation as he ruled that his (Awong) constitutional rights were infringed when he was detained for eight hours for the ticket, which he had already paid.

“In the instant case, using a broad and pervasive definition of the multi-dimensional nature of the right to protection of the law, this Court must conclude that the Claimant’s right to protection of the law was infringed,” Seepersad said.

“It was fundamentally unfair and patently wrong that the Claimant was arrested and deprived of his liberty although he complied with the order of the Court and paid the imposed fine,” he added.

According to the evidence in the case, Awong, the brother of Couva/Tabaquite Regional Corporation chairman Henry Awong, was issued the $1,000 ticket in February 2015.

Awong appeared before a magistrate, pleaded guilty to the traffic offence and was given 14 days to pay the fine or face 14 days simple imprisonment.

The fine was paid on the day of the deadline.

Three years later, Awong was arrested and accused of failing to pay the fine. He spent eight hours in police custody and was released after his brother paid the money.

He was later refunded.

In his judgement, Seepersad ruled that the case highlighted the urgent need for the digitalisation of the system for paying such tickets.

“In a COVID-19 world where physical contact has to be minimalised, the administrative systems of the State have to be operated with heightened accuracy and efficiency,” Seepersad said, as he suggested that the system should have real-time updates when fines are paid.

“It is unfathomable that there seems to be no link between the magistracy and the Police Service which would provide for the real-time transmission of such critical information. This circumstance is detrimental to good public administration and can have drastic consequences for the liberty of citizens,” he said, as he noted that there has been an increase in the use of fixed penalty tickets for offences under ongoing public health regulations for the pandemic.

Seepersad also took issue with the fact that some constitutional cases like the one brought by Awong had been politicised in the past.

“It must be understood that constitutional vigilance and the protection of entrenched rights transcends the transiency of political regimes and serves to preserve the enduring guarantees and rights afforded to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or political preference,” he said.

As part of his decision in the case, Seepersad ordered the State to pay Awong’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.

Awong was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh, Dr Che Dindial and Alana Rambaran, while Stefan Jaikaran and Amrita Ramsook represented the State.