What are court fines?
Court fines are different to infringement fines. A court fine is a fine that can be imposed under the Sentencing Act by the Magistrates’ Court if a person is found guilty of a criminal offence. If you do not pay your court fine in full on the day you are sentenced, you must pay your fine through Fines Victoria.
After receiving a court fine, you will be served with a ‘court fine collection statement’ by Fines Victoria. This statement specifies the court order made and the enforcement action that can be taken if you don’t pay. There are a number of options for dealing with these fines. You should seek legal advice about these options before applying.
1. Apply to Fines Victoria for an extension or a payment arrangement
Since the FR Act commenced, Fines Victoria has been responsible for collecting and managing court fines. If your matter is heard in the Magistrates’ Court and you are fined, you may be able to apply to Fines Victoria for an order allowing you to pay the fine in instalments or to have extra time to pay the fine. Note that if the Magistrates’ Court specifies an instalment order or a time to pay order, Fines Victoria must collect and manage the fine in accordance with any terms specified by the court.
You can also request in writing that the Director of Fines Victoria waives fees added by Fines Victoria to court fines through the enforcement process. This request can be made under section 9 of the FR Act. You cannot ask the director to waive costs or fees added to a fine by a magistrate.
Note that if you were sentenced to your court fine before 31 December 2017, you defaulted on paying the court fine and action has been taken in relation to the default (e.g. an arrest warrant has been issued by the Magistrates’ Court), you cannot apply for Fines Victoria to deal with your fine. You need to apply to the court directly for one of the options listed below.
2. Apply to the Magistrates’ Court for an instalment or time to pay order
If you do not have an instalment order for your court fine and you cannot apply to Fines Victoria for a payment plan (see above), you can apply for an instalment order through the Magistrates’ Court under section 57 of the Sentencing Act. Where a magistrate does not make an instalment order, the magistrate can order that you have more time to pay your fine under section 59 of the Sentencing Act.
3. Apply to a magistrate to vary or cancel an instalment or payment order
Under section 61 of the Sentencing Act, while an instalment order is in force, you can apply to vary or cancel the payment or instalment plan that a magistrate has ordered. Section 61 provides that a magistrate may vary or cancel an instalment order and make any other order under their original powers (which would be the sentencing options under the Sentencing Act) if they are satisfied that:
- your circumstances have materially altered since the order was made and as a result, you are unable to comply with the order; or
- your circumstances were wrongly stated/not accurately presented to the court or by a pre-sentence report before the order was made; or
- you are no longer willing to comply with the order (s 61(1) Sentencing Act).
Section 63(2) of the Sentencing Act states that if an instalment order is cancelled, the Magistrates’ Court must take into account the extent to which the offender had complied with the order when determining how to deal with the offender. There is a risk under s 63(2) that you could be re-sentenced if you make an application to the Magistrates’ Court for an instalment order or a time to pay order.
4. Apply for a conversion of a fine to an unpaid community work order
You may be able to apply for a fine conversion order (FCO) if you are unable to pay the fine given by the court by the due date. Similarly, if the due date for a fine imposed in open court has already passed, you may be able to apply for a fine default unpaid community work order (FDUCWO). These orders allow you to pay the open court fine by doing community work. You can apply for an FCO or FDUCWO in person at the criminal enquiry counter at the Magistrates’ Court. Failing to comply with the requirements of a FCO or a FDUCWO can lead to you being brought before a magistrate in open court again, where you can be resentenced for the original offences, as well as for the offence of failing to comply with the order.
The registrar usually only grants applications if the applicant is unemployed or if there is an exceptional reason why the fine cannot be paid in instalments.
To obtain a FCO or FDUCWO, you need to be assessed for eligibility and you have to agree to certain standard conditions, including:
- not committing any other offence for which the penalty is a prison sentence during the term of the order;
- reporting to a designated community corrections centre within two working days after the order commences;
- not leaving the state without permission;
- receiving visits from, and reporting to, a com-munity correctional services officer as required;
- notifying your supervising officer promptly if you change your address or your job;
- complying with all reasonable orders given by your supervising officer; and
- complying with any other specific conditions set by the secretary, which may include attendance at an educational program, drug or alcohol rehabilitation or medical treatment.
In relation to a FCO or FDUCWO, your supervising officer will set your hours and assign you to a community work site after assessing your skills and work capacity. You also have to report to your supervising officer as directed. If you fail to do so several times without good reason you could be in breach of the order and be returned to court. Any complaints about the conditions of your order should be discussed first with your supervising officer and, if not resolved, with more senior officers.
You may be able to apply to carry out the community work at a charity of your choice (e.g. at a rehabilitation centre where you have been volunteering). If you want to do this, provide a supporting letter from someone at the charity who knows you to strengthen your application.
Under FCOs and FDUCWOs, the number of hours you will be required to work is calculated at the rate of 0.2 of a penalty unit for every one hour worked until the penalty is paid (unless the court sets a different number of hours). There is a minimum of eight hours to be worked and a maximum of 500 hours. If you have more than one FCO or FDUCWO, you cannot serve them at the same time (i.e. concurrently), unlike with a prison sentence. You have to serve them one after the other (i.e. cumulatively).
In some special circumstances (e.g. if you are ill), the FCO or FDUCWO can be suspended for a period, then resumed. You need to provide evidence of the circumstances that justify suspension.
5. Be arrested and have orders made by the Magistrates’ Court
If you are arrested in relation to a default on your fines, you should seek legal advice. You may be able to ask – under section 69G of the Sentencing Act – that your fines be discharged if:
- your circumstances have materially changed since the fine was imposed; or
- your circumstances were wrongly stated when the fine was imposed; or
- your circumstances were not accurately presented when the fine was imposed.
However, if you are arrested in default on your fines, under Part 3B of the Sentencing Act, a magistrate has broad powers including making an instalment order, giving you time to pay or, in very limited circumstances, ordering you to serve a term of imprisonment.
6. Apply for a rehearing if you did not attend the hearing when the fine was imposed and you had a valid reason for not attending
If you did not attend the court hearing when the fine was imposed, you can apply for a rehearing under section 88 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) (‘CP Act’).
This section provides that where a sentence is imposed by a Magistrates’ Court in a criminal proceeding on a person who did not appear in the proceeding, that person, or the informant on that person’s behalf, may apply to the Magistrates’ Court for an order that the charge be reheard.
7. Appeal the decision in the County Court
If you have been convicted of an offence by the Magistrates’ Court in a criminal proceeding, you may appeal to the County Court against the conviction and sentence or the sentence alone (s 254 CP Act). You should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer before deciding to appeal to the County Court as it may result in a harsher sentence against you.
8. Appeal the decision in the Supreme Court
You have the right to appeal a final order of a magistrate to the Supreme Court on a question of law (s 272 CP Act). You should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer before making a decision to appeal to the Supreme Court.
What happens if I do nothing about my court fines?
If you take no action about your outstanding court fines, they will eventually be enforced against you. After a notice of final demand is issued by Fines Victoria, you are vulnerable to a range of sanctions (pts 6–9 FR Act). An enforcement warrant will be issued, after which you can be arrested and brought before a court to be dealt with under Part 3B of the Sentencing Act.
Depending on your circumstances, the court can:
- discharge your fines in full or in part;
- discharge part of your fines and order imprisonment for a maximum of 24 months, subject to a time to pay order or an instalment order (also called an imprisonment in lieu order) – if you default on the order, a warrant to imprison you can be issued;
- make a fine default unpaid community work order;
- make an imprisonment order for a maximum of 24 months (including an imprisonment in lieu order, which is an instalment order where if you default, a warrant to imprison you can be issued)
- make an order giving you time to pay your fines;
- make an order that you pay your fine in instalments;
- make an order adjourning the proceeding for six months;
- order that the amount of your unpaid fines be levied under a warrant to seize property;
- vary any existing instalment order or time to pay order.
If you are arrested under an enforcement warrant for outstanding court fines, seek legal advice (see Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help).