RLC in the Media: Law Society calls for NSW premier to urgently review thousands of COVID fines

The NSW Law Society argues many fines issued to vulnerable residents are invalid, unfair and could trap disadvantaged people in debt

Christopher Knaus reports for The Guardian

Last month, the NSW Law Society president, Joanne van der Plaat, wrote to the NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, warning him the fines were having “a disproportionate and unjust impact on certain vulnerable groups of people, and in particular children and Aboriginal people”.

The call follows data uncovered by Redfern Legal Centre throughout the pandemic revealing that regional towns and lower socioeconomic areas were being disproportionately targeted by police issuing COVID fines.

In addition, 3,000 children received fines of $5,000 for minor public health order breaches in the last financial year.

With many of these fines now at enforcement stage and thousands struggling to pay, Redfern Legal Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and PIAC have been calling on government to revoke unjust COVID fines through open letters signed by numerous concerned legal, political, academic and civil society representatives.

In her letter to the NSW Premier, the Law Society President stated that 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 being 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.”

The constantly changing nature of the public health orders – data suggests 71 amendments to the orders were made between July 2021 and October 2021 – was also cited as a concern.

Van der Plaat said the frequent changes meant there was “a high likelihood that incorrectly issued fines are prevalent and indeed, inevitable”.

RLC welcomes the Law Society of NSW joining the call to cancel fines issued to children and people experiencing hardship.

Read the full article (The Guardian, 27 May 2022)

See also

'We cannot fine our way out of the pandemic': a call to address unjust COVID-19 fines (15 September 2021)

A call on government to pause enforcement of COVID-19 fines over the holidays (9 December 2021)