RLC in the Media: Vast majority of COVID-19 fines remain unpaid

Data obtained by RLC reveals that the majority of people issued with a $1000 COVID-19 fine in NSW have not paid, or can’t afford to pay, leading to calls for a means-tested system and review of police conduct.

Anna Patty reports for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fewer than a quarter of the 1854 fines police issued in 14 months since they were introduced have been paid in full, figures obtained by RLC under freedom of information laws reveal.

The figures show NSW Police issued the fines between January 1, 2020, and February 24 this year, including to children. The data reveals 22 per cent of the fines — about $415,000 of the total $1,854,000 owing — had been paid in full.

Sydney University law professor Simon Rice is among those who have elected to test the fine in court. He alleges he was wrongfully fined for being a bystander at a rally outside the university last October. He is also considering suing police for alleged use of excessive force in kicking him to the ground while making the charge.

Professor Rice and the Redfern Legal Centre said the system overseeing police conduct was ineffective and have called for “systemic change”.

Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Samantha Lee said many people, including those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic or who were on Centrelink benefits, were unable to pay the $1000 fines, which are not means-tested. She said the process of applying for leniency due to financial hardship was complex.

“The fines are among the largest on-the-spot fines police can issue and the largest that can be issued to a child aged 10 to 18,” she said.

“Few can afford to test the legality of these fines in court, nor take the risk of obtaining a criminal record if found guilty of the offence.”

Ms Lee said police may have circumvented essential legal thresholds such as reasonable suspicion and onus of proof in issuing fines which she wanted to test.

Ms Lee said figures from NSW Police showed 58 children aged between 10 and 17 were fined between March 26 and May 8 last year.

Read the full story here. (3 May 2021)