The decision by the Pietermaritzburg High Court is expected to set a precedent for courts to send even first-time offenders to jail after a minibus taxi driver's sentence was increased from R5 000 to an effective five-year imprisonment.

The decision by the Pietermaritzburg High Court is expected to set a precedent for courts to send even first-time offenders to jail after a minibus driver's sentence was increased from R5 000 to an effective five-year imprisonment.

Judge Keith McCall set aside a fine of R 5 000 or three years imprisonment imposed on Sifiso Mbeje by a Pinetown magistrate on two counts of culpable homicide and for operating an unroadworthy vehicle on a public road.

The judge increased the sentences to 30 months imprisonment on each of the two culpable homicide charges and imposed a two year prison sentence for driving an unroadworthy vehicle. The latter sentence will run concurrently, meaning Mbeje will go to jail for five years.

Until now, courts have been hesitant to impose direct imprisonment for traffic offences especially involving first-time offenders, which Mbeje was.

Mbeje will not be arrested until certain formalities have been finalised, including the issuing of a warrant of arrest by the magistrate's court in Pinetown.

Attie Truter from the Director of Public Prosecutions office said Mbeje's situation was different because the state appealed against his sentence on grounds that it was too lenient. He had already paid his fine and until now was a "free man".

McCall found Mbeje drove his taxi despite knowing it was unroadworthy- he was suspended two months before the accident - and intentionally put the lives of his passengers and other road users in danger.

The accident, which claimed the lives of Joyce Allan and David Francis and also caused critical injuries to the late Marcia Schreuder and the now-disabled Liz Garroch, took place on August 31 2002.