NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has told officers in a video that he won’t hold them to account for wrongly issuing COVID-19 fines. He’s called for a priority in enforcing health orders outside emergency duties.
Fuller issued his officers a challenge, asking them to “go high-level enforcement” ahead of Operation Stay at Home.
“We need to stretch ourselves across the state, but we’ll only get compliance if you start writing tickets, if you start future CANing [issuing a future court attendance notice] people for breaching the health orders,” Fuller said before the crackdown.
“I appreciate there’s a lot to take in with the health orders, but I am asking you to put community policing to the side for a short period of time, for 21 days I will head this operation, you need to take a strong approach to enforcement.”
“I have said before, if you write a ticket, and you get it wrong, I understand, and I won’t hold you to account for that.”
Allowing officers to get it wrong
Fuller has given his officers permission to use their utmost discretion when issuing fines. He says that there will be no consequence to them should they be wrongly issuing the hefty fines.
While for some a wrongly issued fine is an inconvenience, for others it is the stress and financial strain that may break them.
Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery QC, said it was important all legitimate means be used to deal with the crisis. However, it was a “failure of leadership to tell officers in advance that if they get something wrong, there will be no consequences”.
“A leader should be encouraging all officers under his or her command to comply with the law and do the right thing, and making it clear that if that doesn’t happen, there will be consequences,” Mr Cowdery said.
Losing trust in the force
Macquarie University adjunct Professor of Law George Newhouse, who also heads the National Justice Project legal service, said the approach that Mr Fuller promotes seemed counterproductive to the desired health outcomes.
“Police need to learn to work co-operatively with the community and not use bullying and harassment tactics. It just breaks down the trust that is necessary,” he said.
Stronger penalties for breaching COVID rules
Operation Stay at Home coincided with the NSW Government increasing fines for those breaching the COVID-19 public health orders.
In the case of an individual, the maximum penalty is $11,000, or imprisonment for 6 months, or both. A further $5500 penalty may apply for each day the offence continues.
The NSW Police may also issue on-the-spot fines to individuals of
- $1,000 for breach of a public health order
- $3,000 for participating in an outdoor gathering of more than 2 people
- $500 for failure to comply with a direction to wear or carry a mask for those aged 18 years or older. There is an $80 fine for those aged 16 or 17, and $40 for 15 or younger.
- $5000 for failure to comply with the obligation to answer questions from by a contact tracer, provide your name and contact details to a contact tracer, and provide true and accurate information to a contact tracer
- $5000 for failure to comply with obligations to self-isolate if you have a positive diagnosis of COVID-19, including staying at home or in hospital, as determined by a doctor, nurse or paramedic; providing details of contact with other persons and places you have visited; and complying with NSW Health guidelines
- $5000 for failure to comply with obligations to self-isolate if you’re a close contact of a person with a diagnosis with COVID-19, including staying at home up to 14 days, as determined by a doctor, nurse or paramedic; submitting to testing for COVID-19; and complying with NSW Health guidelines
If you get a fine for a public health breach and wish to contest it, contact us. Our criminal defence lawyers will ensure that police have complied with the law correctly in a time of rapid change.