RLC in the Media: Almost 3,000 children in NSW hit with fines of up to $5,000 for minor Covid rule breaches

Almost 3,000 COVID-19 fines totalling just over $2.1 million dollars have been issued to children aged 10-17 years since 1 July last year, data obtained by Redfern Legal Centre reveals. 

Christopher Knaus reports for The Guardian

Data obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre under freedom of information shows fines worth $2.1m have been issued to 2,844 children aged 10-17 since the middle of last year.

More than half the children received a fine of $1,000. Seventeen children were fined $5,000 and 39 were fined $3,000.

Redfern Legal Centre’s police accountability solicitor Samantha Lee said she had seen examples of children with intellectual disabilities receiving fines.

“These fines are enormous … it’s just absurd to even think we should issue such a fine to a child, there’s no way they can pay,” Lee said.

“We’re doing this for families on Centrelink, and not only is it a financial impact, there’s an emotional impact.

“There’s often a parent who will ring me with the child near them and the stress and the tension that the fine has created in the relationship between the child and the parent cannot be underestimated.”

The most common breach resulting in a fine was failing to comply with a direction under the public health act, which Lee said was a catch-all offence used to fine people who had, for example, sat on a park bench but not breached a gathering rule, sat alone in their car, gone to the shop with another member of their household, or walked on the street without a valid reason.

More than 1,500 fines were issued for that offence, accounting for $1.59m of the fines.

Other breaches included not wearing a mask, not complying with curfews, not carrying identification outside greater Sydney, and not complying with restrictions on outdoor gatherings.

Lee said fines for such breaches should only be issued as a last resort. Even where they were issued, fines for children in NSW were significantly higher than other states.

In response, Redfern Legal Centre, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited and Public Interest Advocacy Centre are calling on government to revoke all COVID-19 fines issued to children, and issue cautions instead.

Read full article (The Guardian, 10 December 2021)