The New South Wales government has cancelled around 33,000 COVID-19 related fines after conceding that they were too vague.
The fines amounted to roughly $30 million and relate to the public health orders in place at the time.
Revenue NSW has confirmed that the fines have been cancelled, which total nearly half the fines issued by police during pandemic-related restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
A spokesperson for Revenue NSW confirmed that impacted fines which have already been paid would be totally refunded.
The fines were forced to be withdrawn, after government lawyers conceded that two ‘test’ cases initiated by the Redfern Legal Centre, did not provide sufficient detail about the offence.
It was essentially conceded that they failed to meet the legal requirements set out in the Fines Act 1996 (NSW), which require fines to specify the relevant offence alleged to have been committed.
The proceedings initially involved three plaintiffs: Mr Rohan Pank, Mr Brendan Beame and Ms Teal Els, with the defendants being the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Fines.
However, on the date the case was filed with the court, Revenue NSW withdrew Pank’s $1,000 fine for allegedly failing to comply with a public health order.
Pank had been within 1km of his Newtown home and was sitting in a park, when he was fined by police, who claimed that he breached the public health order by not actively exercising.
The remaining two cases proceeded before the court, with the NSW Supreme Court ultimately making declarations that the Penalty Notices issued to the two plaintiffs in the case were invalid.
Els was fined $3,000 for “unlawfully participating in an outdoor public gathering”, whereas Beame’s was fine description was “Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation to section 7/8/9 – COVID-19 – Individual”.
The fines cancelled by Revenue NSW, in the wake of the decision, are those with the description: ‘Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 – COVID-19’ – Individual, and ‘Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 – COVID-19’ – Company.
“The Commissioner of Fines Administration is able to independently review or withdraw penalty notices. In this case, he has decided to exercise his statutory power to withdraw two types of Public Health Order fines,” noted the spokesperson for Revenue NSW.
“This decision does not mean the offences were not committed. A total of 33,121 fines will be withdrawn, which is around half of the total number of 62,138 COVID-19 related fines issued.” the statement continued.
The remaining 29,017 COVID-19 fines during 2021 which do not fall under those two categories will still be required to be paid.
Redfern Legal Centre’s principal solicitor, Sam Lee has argued that those fined for “unlawfully participating in an outdoor public gathering” like Els should also have their fines withdrawn.
The Centre has confirmed that they have written to the NSW government to ask for further information about this issue.
Lee ultimately commented how: “fines can have a crippling impact, especially for those experiencing financial disadvantage. This case places the responsibility on the commissioner of fines and administration to ensure that fines adhere to the required legislation.”
Fines issued in connection with public health orders have received a variety of criticism over the pandemic period, including due to how a large concentration were issued in Western Sydney and regional NSW.
The Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) enables state officials to make a range of enforceable directions and orders to address public health risks and control the spread of infectious diseases.
In accordance with the powers under this Act, ‘public health orders’ were created which contained various fineable offences.
Multiple orders made throughout the varying stages of the pandemic, reflecting shifting restrictions.