NSW Supreme Court call cuts COVID-19 fines

The ruling invalidated at least two penalty notices, causing the withdrawal of about 33,000 fines

NSW Supreme Court call cuts COVID-19 fines

The NSW Supreme Court has ruled at least two COVID-19-related penalty notices invalid in a watershed decision made on Tuesday that has led to the withdrawal of about 33,000 fines on Sydneysiders.

The Commissioner of Fines Administration conceded that some penalty notices issued in line with public health orders did not adequately detail the offences in question, failing to meet the criteria outlined in section 20 of the Fines Act. The two types of public health order fines that will be withdrawn are “Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 - COVID-19’ – Individual,” and “Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 - COVID-19’ – Company.”

The Redfern Legal Centre helped plaintiffs Rohan Pank, Brenden Beame and Teal Els to bring the matter to court after the three were slapped with fines of $1,000-$3,000 for supposedly violating public health orders last year. The landmark case also called out the NSW Police Commissioner, as reported by News.com.au.

Redfern Legal Centre acting principal solicitor Samantha Lee highlighted the importance of the case and its outcome for the disadvantaged, pointing out that the lack of detail on the penalty notices made it “impossible for [our clients] to make an informed decision about whether to pay or contest the fine.”

“[The case] is about the need to properly adhere to the rule of law, even during a pandemic,” she explained in a statement published by News.com.au. “This case places the responsibility on the Commissioner of Fines and Administration to ensure that fines adhere to the required legislation.”

Following the court’s decision, Revenue NSW has confirmed its commitment to refunding fines that were settled previously, according to the NSW Law Society. Moreover, Revenue NSW will no longer be enforcing collection of fines “including by the imposition of driver licence restrictions and garnishee orders.”

In total, 33,121 out of 62,138 COVID-19 fines issued will be cancelled with no sanctions, Revenue NSW said in a statement. However, the body indicated that the court’s ruling did not affect 29,017 fines that did not fall under the two invalidated types of penalty notices.

The Law Society applauded Revenue NSW’s decision to issue refunds, but warned that the lack of resolution regarding other types of penalties might “impose a disproportionate burden of penalties on vulnerable and disadvantaged people.”

“Many of the top 15 per-capita locations where fines were issued during the Delta outbreak have high Aboriginal populations. These include the top three of Walgett, Brewarrina and Wilcannia. Eleven of these communities are counted among communities suffering the state’s highest level of social disadvantage,” the Law Society said.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) echoed the Law Society’s call to evaluate the remaining fines still being imposed. CEO Karly Warner pointed out that Aboriginal people had already been stripped of their driver’s licences due to unpaid fines, which “has flow-on effects in being unable to get to work, take kids to school, shop for groceries, or go to health appointments.”

“Community have been forced onto payment plans they can’t afford, which is stressful at any time of year and doubly so as we enter the festive season,” Warner said. “The government has dragged people through the courts only to concede that some fines may never have been valid in the first place. How many more people does it plan to put through this ordeal before accepting that all COVID fines must be cancelled?”

In another test case before the Supreme Court, the ALS has also challenged fines issued to those involved with peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

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