The NSW Law Society called on Premier Dominic Perrottet to urgently review thousands of COVID fines.
Lawyers warn that many fines were invalid, unfair and caused debts that people are unable to pay.
COVID fines disproportionately dished out
Earlier this year, The Guardian revealed two areas of NSW bore the brunt of the COVID fines:
- small towns with high populations of First Nations people; and
- western Sydney suburbs, which are home to the most socio-economically disadvantaged residents.
Small towns like Walgett, Brewarrina and Wilcannia had the most fines per capita over the entire outbreak.
Last month NSW Law Society president Joanne van der Plaat wrote a warning to Perrottet.
Van der Plaat said the fines were having “a disproportionate and unjust impact on certain vulnerable groups of people and in particular children and Aboriginal people”.
Constantly changing rules caused confusion
The frequent changing of the public health orders caused confusions for citizens and police alike.
For example, seventy-one amendments to the orders happened between July 2021 and October 2021.
Van der Plaat said previous calls for the government to temporarily pause the recovery of fines had been ignored, and individual requests for fines to be waived were often refused.
“The punitive and flow on effects of fines are well-known in relation to increasing individuals’ vulnerability to cycles of debt and disadvantage,” Van der Plaat wrote.
“PHO fines can lead to incarceration in NSW, either through conviction if a person elects to take the matter to court, or through driving while unlicensed. We understand from our members that almost half of those who were issued a PHO fine already have existing fines debt.”
Children’s fines ought to be cautions
Separate data shows that almost 3,000 children were hit with fines of up to $5,000 for minor breaches between mid-2020 and December 2021.
In her public statement, Van der Plaat said the government must urgently review thousands of COVID fines issued to vulnerable residents.
“While Revenue NSW may be contacting vulnerable people and children to ‘provide support’ and possibly write off some fines, the Law Society considers all fines issued to children ought to be converted to formal cautions,” she said.
“The only option available for challenging a fine after refusal by Revenue NSW is to go to court. A loss there risks a conviction, an $11,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment. The consequences of a conviction can be life altering.”
If you believe that you got an incorrect COVID-19 fines, you wish to contest your fine or you believe that you were unlawfully dealt with by NSW Police, contact O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors for a free initial consultation.