RLC in the Media: ‘Ridiculous’: NSW police accused of handing out unfair Covid fines and targeting young people

Legal centres are being ‘bombarded’ by people who say they’ve been wrongly fined for lockdown breaches.

Mostafa Rachwani reports for The Guardian.

James was taking a break on a bench after a solo run in Zetland, Sydney, on a chilly August afternoon, when he was approached by three police officers.

It was during lockdown, when daily exercise was limited to only two people. So when one officer asked to see his ID, James was confident he hadn’t broken any rules.

But after he asked why he was being stopped, an officer told him he was being handed a $1,000 on-the-spot fine.

“They wouldn’t tell me the reason … they just said I was breaching the public health orders,” James, a frontline health worker who has asked to remain anonymous, said.

James is just one of many cases being handled by community legal centres in NSW, who say they are being “bombarded” by people who believe they have been issued unfair fines.

Samantha Lee, a police accountability solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre, believes “the majority” of cases her centre are handling “have a legal argument for the fine to be withdrawn”.

“We are of the view that in the majority of the cases coming to us, the police have applied the law incorrectly,” she said.

“I believe that we’re not even at the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re looking at a systemic failure by the police. There will be I think thousands more fines that have potentially been issued incorrectly.”

Statistics from Revenue NSW, detailed in an open letter, show more than 10,000 fines have been issued for breaches of Covid rules between March 2020 and July 2021, totalling over $9m.

A number of community legal centres across New South Wales are now calling on the state government to revoke all fines issued under Covid public health orders.

Redfern Legal Centre, along with the Aboriginal Legal Service, Community Legal Centres NSW and Public Interest Advocacy Centre, also raised concerns that “fines have been incorrectly issued by police” in an open letter published last month.

“We call on the government to reduce the use of policing and fines to ensure compliance with public health orders and invest more heavily in non-punitive approaches,” it said.

Samantha Lee from Redfern Legal Centre describes the situation as an “administrative disaster”.

“The public health orders should never have been an on the spot fine,” she said.

“There are so many rules, that are changing constantly, and that require the police to interpret what they mean. It is unjust to turn these into an on-the-spot fine.”

Read the full article here. (The Guardian, 7 October 2021)