What is an infringement?
Many Victorian Acts, Regulations and local council laws allow for the issue of infringement notices (often called ‘on-the-spot’ fines).
Most commonly, infringement notices are issued for minor summary criminal offences, including parking and traffic offences, public transport offences, and public order offences (e.g. littering, drinking in a public place, behaving offensively). Infringement notices are also commonly issued for offences including shop theft, careless driving, failing to vote, and certain offences relating to carrying knives.
The penalty to be paid under an infringement notice is usually set by the legislation that created the offence.
Infringements are different to court fines
It is important to note that infringements are different to court fines. Court fines are penalties imposed by a court under the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic). For information about how to deal with court fines, see ‘Dealing with court fines’.
Infringements Act 2006 (Vic)
The original piece of legislation regulating the infringements system in Victoria is the Infringements Act 2006 (Vic) (‘Infringements Act’), which came into effect on 1 July 2006. The Infringements Act still contains important provisions about infringement notices at the pre-enforcement stage, as well as the definition of ‘special circumstances’.
However, as significant reform was introduced by the Fines Reform Act 2014 (Vic) (‘FR Act’) and the Fines Reform Amendment Act 2017 (Vic), the FR Act is now the main piece of legislation in relation to fines and infringements in Victoria.
The infringements process
The infringements system gives anyone who has been issued with an infringement notice several options. One option is to pay the penalty for the offence set out in the notice and thereby ‘expiate’ the offence (that is, cancel the infringement and avoid any court proceedings) (see ‘What happens after an infringement notice is issued?’, below).
While there are harsh sanctions at the enforcement stage of the infringements system, the Infringements Act and the FR Act also contain provisions designed to alleviate the inflexibility of the system where appropriate.
Many people who are living on limited incomes, or experiencing homelessness, or have other special circumstances accrue significant unpaid fines or infringement notices. In some cases, this is because of the person’s housing status. In other cases, there may be further underlying causes (e.g. a person might be experiencing mental illness or have an addiction to drugs or alcohol). Importantly, in such cases, the Infringements Act and the FR Act allow for a review of the decision to issue or enforce a fine. For example, people who provide evidence of their special circumstances may have their fine reviewed and cancelled (see ‘Your options if you get an infringement notice’). Also, fines that are a result of family violence can be reviewed.
An issuing officer has a discretionary power to issue an ‘official warning’ rather than issue an infringement. This can only occur if the issuing officer reasonably believes that a person has committed an infringement, but they think it is appropriate, considering all the circumstances, to instead issue an official warning. Issuing officers are required to comply with any policy or guideline made by the relevant enforcement agency about giving official warnings.
The decision to issue an official warning does not affect the enforcement agency’s power to commence proceedings, issue an infringement, or cancel the official warning. Some enforcement agencies (e.g. Victoria Police) have published the criteria they use when deciding whether to exercise their discretion to issue official warnings (see s 9 Infringements Act).
The Attorney-General’s ‘Guidelines to the Infringements Act 2006’ also contain guidance on this (see https://www.justice.vic.gov.au/justice-system/fines-and-penalties/attorney-generals-guidelines-to-the-infringements-act-2006).
An infringement notice should contain details about the offence and how to pay the penalty, including:
- a statement that the document is in fact an infringement notice, and the date of the infringement notice;
- the name and address of the person (if known) who is presumed to have committed the offence (e.g. this may be ‘the owner’ for parking offences);
- the name of the enforcement agency that issued the infringement notice and (except for traffic camera offences) the name of the issuing officer;
- the approximate date, time and place that the offence is said to have occurred;
- the Act or other legislative instrument that created the offence and a brief description of the offence (i.e. which law was broken);
- the vehicle registration number (or other means of identification) if it is a motor vehicle offence (e.g. a traffic or parking offence);
- the penalty that has to be paid, plus details of how to pay, and when the payment is due (which must be at least 21 days from the date the notice is sent);
- a warning that if the fine is not paid within the stated time limit, further enforcement action may be taken against you and further costs may be added to the amount of the fine;
- other options for dealing with the fine, including applying to review the decision to issue the fine, or enter into a payment arrangement (see ‘Your options if you get an infringement notice’).
There are several ways you can receive an infringement notice, including:
- in person; or
- on your windscreen in a visible manner; or
- by mail or delivery to your home, business or last-known address; or
- in a manner authorised by an Act/instrument; or
- in a manner of substituted service under section 163 of the Infringements Act.
If an infringement notice is posted, it is deemed to be served seven days after the date on the notice, subject to evidence to the contrary. Service is deemed to be effected, even if the notice is returned to the sender.
For the period 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022, one penalty unit equals $181.74 under Victorian state law. See ‘A note about penalty units’ at the start of this book.
What happens after an infringement notice is issued?
Under the infringements system, the steps in the enforcement of infringement notices are as follows:
1 An infringement notice is issued
- Payment of the penalty stated in the notice within 21 days (or any longer time stated in the notice) results in expiation of the offence (i.e. no further enforcement action or court proceedings will be taken); or
- Non-payment of the penalty within the time stated in the notice results in the issue of a penalty reminder notice, which adds an additional fee to the original penalty (the additional fee is 1.74 penalty units).
2 A penalty reminder notice is issued
- Payment of the penalty and costs stated in the penalty reminder notice within 14 days (or a longer time stated in the notice) results in expiation of the offence; or
- Non-payment within the time stated in the notice results in the fine being registered with Fines Victoria; Fines Victoria then issues a notice of final demand and adds an additional fee to the penalty (the additional fee is 1.74 fee units).
3 A notice of final demand is issued
- Payment of the penalty and costs stated in the notice of final demand within 21 days results in expiation of the offence; or
- Non-payment within 21 days results in Fines Victoria applying to the Magistrates’ Court to issue an enforcement warrant, which adds an additional fee to the penalty;
- After a notice of final demand is issued, other enforcement sanctions become available:
- suspending, not granting, or not renewing a person’s driver licence or registration, or
- making an attachment of earnings or debts direction, or
- applying for a charge over land.
4 An enforcement warrant is issued
- After a notice of final demand expires, the Director of Fines Victoria may apply to a registrar of the Magistrates’ Court to issue an enforcement warrant. Once an enforcement warrant is issued, the sheriff can impose various other sanctions, including detaining, immobilising and towing a person’s vehicle, removing number plates, and seizing and selling the person’s personal property and land;
- Payment of the penalty and the costs stated in the enforcement warrant prevents a seven-day notice being issued and expiates the offence; or
- Non-payment results in the issuing of a seven-day notice.
5 A seven-day notice is issued
- A seven-day notice is the final notice that is served before an enforcement warrant is executed; once an enforcement warrant is executed, the person can either have their property seized or they can be arrested;
- Payment of the penalty and all the costs stated in the enforcement warrant before the seven-day notice expires will expiate the offence; or
- Non-payment results in the execution of an enforcement warrant through the person’s arrest or the seizure and sale of their property, including motor vehicles. If arrested, the person can either be bailed to appear in court under section 165 of the FR Act, or they may be eligible for a community work permit (see ‘What happens if I take no action?’, below).