Challenge against the existence of a traffic offence by defendants who voluntarily pay a fine
RULING Nº 45/08
23 of January of 2008
The interpretation of the Highway Code regulation to the effect that defendants who spontaneously pay a fine for a traffic offence cannot challenge the existence of the offence but solely defend themselves on the basis of the seriousness of the said offence and the applicable driving ban is unconstitutional.
The question raised in this judgment is whether the prescriptive criterion to the effect that spontaneous payment of a fine for a traffic offence precludes the accused from challenging the existence of the offence in court fulfils the conditions set out in the Constitution for access to the courts with a view to ensuring the effective protection of legally recognised rights and interests by means of a fair trial.
This opinion is based either on the conviction that this situation involves an irrebuttable presumption or on the assignment of an absolute probative value to the defendants' admission of the offence, which is implicit in their spontaneous payment of the fine.
From the constitutional angle, there is no questioning the legislative possibility of establishing presumptions, even in the event of sanctions being imposed (including in criminal cases). What is intolerable is the irrefutability of these presumptions.
Although the rules of the Code of Criminal Procedure on the importance of the defendant admitting an offence have not been transposed to the administrative sanction procedure, spontaneous payment of fines, particularly at the time of recording of the offence, by a defendant who is thus unlikely to have secured legal assistance and cannot know the consequences of taking this option, cannot be deemed equivalent to admitting the offence, which would definitively deprive the accused of the possibility of retracting. The judgment at issue must accordingly be considered as intolerably diminishing the guarantees required by the principles of effective judicial protection and due process.