NSW COVID-19 Public Health Laws and Police Powers

RLC has released a factsheet on new police powers introduced in NSW in response to COVID-19.

The complex new powers see the introduction of on-the-spot-fines and other punitive measures for breaching coronavirus public health laws in NSW.

Under the new laws, you may only leave your place of residence if you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to do so. Gatherings of more than two people in a public place are not allowed; however, the two-person limit does not apply to people within your household and there are exceptions for other specific circumstances.  

RLC's factsheet outlines some of the 'reasonable excuses' for leaving your house, and looks at the application of fines and other penalties for breaching public heath directions. 

Speaking to Guardian Australia, RLC police accountability solicitor Samantha Lee said that community safety is vitally important but raised concerns that fines may disproportionately affect people already experiencing vulnerability, including young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those who have just lost their job.

"The impact of fines often propels already marginalised people straight into the criminal justice system, simply because they are unable to pay," she said.  

Lee stresses the importance of understanding the new laws and the limits on they can be enforced and recommends people explain their 'reasonable excuse' to police if asked.

"If you are approached by police, it is best to be cooperative but ask police why you have been approached," she told 10 Daily

"Police are legally required to provide you reasons, and still need to meet legal thresholds."

Contesting fines

If you feel police have given you a fine unfairly, there are options you can take. 

A person issued with a fine can request a review of their penalty notice by contacting Revenue NSW. They can also seek to appeal the penalty notice in the Local Court.

"It is best to seek legal advice before taking the matter to Court, as the Court may order you to pay further costs," Samantha Lee said. "But it is important to know that taking the matter to court is always an option."

If you are unable to pay a fine because of financial hardship, or need more time to pay, via Revenue NSW you can seek a reduction or waiver of the fine on grounds of financial disadvantage, arrange to pay by instalments or apply for a Work & Development order.

You can also contact Law Access or your local community legal centre for free and confidential legal advice about your options.

The enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders is complex and subject to change. RLC aims to update our factsheet as changes occur.

Download RLC's factsheet here 

See also:
Man eating kebab on bench among 50 people fined in NSW and Victoria for violating coronavirus laws (The Guardian, 3 April 2020)

How To Get Out Of An 'Unfair' Coronavirus Fine (10 Daily, 13 April 2020)