Media release

19 January 2021

Confusion over COVID fines will cause delays and unfairness

Victoria Police’s insistence on prosecuting COVID fines will ensure delays and unfairness, Community Legal Centres say.

An article in The Age yesterday gave hope to many Victorians that Victoria Police would let people off with a warning in less serious cases.

The front-page story said that police had changed their internal guidelines to issue cautions and diversions for most people with COVID fines. Police issued a statement in response to the article saying the guidelines were ‘poorly worded’ and that no fines would be dropped.

Fitzroy Legal Service Principal Lawyer Adrian Snodgrass said the about-face was a distressing blow for members of the community who have been fined unfairly.

“It is creating confusion among the general public, those who have been fined, as well as the legal profession,” he said.

“We’ve been running an advice line for COVID fines and spoken with a lot of people. Almost every one of them has tried to comply with Victoria’s restrictions.”

“We’ve had people come to us who don’t speak English well enough to explain to police that they had a lawful reason for being outside. Others acted in good faith but misunderstood the complex and rapidly changing directions.”

Many are still saddled with a $1652 fine that they either need to pay or challenge in court and risk a criminal record.

“People will just accept a fine they shouldn’t have received and can’t pay because they don’t want to take the risk.”

“Reviews of infringement notices are almost always refused without reasons. There is no way of getting your situation properly reviewed without going in front of a magistrate,” he said.

Community Legal Centres are urging police to ensure that people who have been fined unfairly aren’t forced to go to court to have their fine withdrawn.

“There are already significant delays in Victoria’s courts. It can take a year to get your case heard. Forcing people to use the court system to sort out fines is a huge extra burden.”

“The use of fines should be a last resort in a public health response. Fitzroy Legal Service supports any moves away from a reliance on policing to promote public health.”

For media enquiries contact:

Adrian Snodgrass, Principal Lawyer, Fitzroy Legal Service – 0402 518 456

Anoushka Jeronimus, Director Youth Law Program, WestJustice – 0491 180 403

Taina Lefort, Lawyer, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre – 0468 308 796

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