It is reported that 2 NSW police officers have been handed $1,000 fines each for contravening the COVID19 social distancing laws.

Over the weekend commencing 4 April 2020, in total 5 people were fined $1,000 each for breaching the stay at home social distancing rules.

Amongst those 5 people, one was a 27-year-old female senior constable police officer and a 27-year-old male senior constable police officer from the Fairfield Local Area Command who had attended a gathering in a Sydney CBD apartment on the Saturday night.

Both officers were off duty.

It wasn’t until approximately 8:30pm Saturday night, that police noticed the 27-year-old senior constable intoxicated, while a 31-year-old male was alongside assisting her.

Due to her state of intoxication, it is reported that she was subsequently taken to hospital.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has emphasised for people to comply with social distancing on numerous occasions, and on Tuesday she said, “IT only takes a handful of people to do the wrong thing and it can spread the virus through the community”.

Mick Fuller, NSW Police Commissioner has said, “The reality is the messaging that Premier and Chief Health Officer have been giving over the last weeks and months has not been getting through to some people.”

Clear Guide on When you Can and Can’t Leave Your Home and Public Gathering Laws and Penalties in NSW

Breaching a ministerial direction like the social distancing rules implemented in NSW attract heavy penalties of up to $11,000 fine or 6 months jail, or both under section 10 of the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW).

Under the same NSW Laws, there will be a further $5,500 fine per day that the offence continues for.

In addition, if a corporation is guilty of this, the maximum penalties increase to $55,000 fine. Further, there will be up to $27,500 fine per day that the offence continues for.

These penalties apply specifically when a person breaches a ministerial direction like the one outlined in section 7 Public Health Act 2010 (NSW), which basically allows the Minister to make these social distancing directions where it’s considered on reasonable grounds that the situation is likely to be or is a risk to public health.

The Minister therefore has power to give such directions in those circumstances to deal with that risk and its possible consequences.

Section 7 goes further to allow the Minister to make an order declaring any part of NSW to be a public health risk area, and give such directions as considered necessary to reduce or remove the risk, segregate or isolate inhabitants and prevent or conditionally permit, access to the area.

The Minister for Health and Medical Research in NSW has used these very powers to do just that.

The Minister as at 30 March 2020 from 10:20pm made orders called the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020, to essentially prohibit a person (Without a reasonable excuse) from leaving his/her place of residence, and prohibits a person from participating in public place gatherings of more than 2 people.

The direction to not leave your home provides an exception where you can leave your home if you have a reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse here includes:

  • To get food or other services or goods.
  • To travel to work, childcare or education if you can’t do it at home.
  • Medical or caring purposes.
  • Attending wedding or funeral.
  • Donating blood.
  • Moving homes or work premises.
  • To comply with legal obligations, such as court attendances and bail conditions.
  • Accessing public services such as mental health, employments services and social services.
  • Parents who need to comply with their child care arrangements as to child access to each parent.
  • Going to place of worship.
  • To avoid illness or injury or to escape a risk of harm and any emergencies or compassionate reasons.

The direction to not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than two people also provides an exception, where you can do this if:

  • It’s gatherings of member so the same household, and
  • Gatherings essential for work or education.
  • For wedding at which there’s no more than 5 people.
  • Gathering for funeral services at which there are no more than 10 persons.
  • Gathering to facilitate a move to a new home or business premises.
  • Gathering to provide assistance or care to people who are vulnerable.
  • Gathering to for emergency assistance.
  • Gathering required to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or complying with bail conditions.

The new directions also give directions as to closure of certain premises and outlines the obligations of owners and occupiers of premises.

While the above penalties apply if it ends up being heard before a NSW Court, police are given power to issue an on-the-spot fine per person of $1,000.

In the event a person who’s issued this fine court-elects the infringement, he/she will then be subject to those heavier maximum penalties by a court, including the option of a non-conviction section 10 sentence.

If a court does not impose a non-conviction sentence, there will be a criminal conviction imposed.

However, if a person who’s issued an on-the-spot fine simply pays’ the fine, there will no criminal record against the person’s name, putting an end to the case.

If you have a question arising from this topic of law, contact our criminal lawyers based in Parramatta and Sydney CBD today for a free consult.

Published on 11/04/2020

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AUTHOR Jimmy Singh

Mr. Jimmy Singh is the Principal Lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia - Leading Criminal Lawyers in Sydney, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Criminal Courts.

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