News

Confusion over police COVID fines will cause delays and unfairness

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are urging police to ensure that people who have been fined unfairly aren’t forced to go to court to have their fine withdrawn.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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We are pleased to share our November update which includes our 2019-2020 Annual Report, information on two new Life Members and the appointment of our 2021 Trainee Lawyer.

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More women than ever are on remand in Victorian prisons, and the number of Aboriginal women in prison has risen by 400 per cent in the past 10 years. It is a crisis in the state’s prison system. The Women’s Leadership Group featured on this Philanthropy Australia podcast is employed by the Fitzroy Legal Service in Victoria as a component of the Women Transforming Justice Project. That Project is community-based and women-specific with the aim of reducing the number of women in remand in Victoria. It is funded by the Victorian Legal Service Board Grants Program and delivered through a partnership between Darebin Community Legal Centre (a program of Fitzroy Legal Service), the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women and Flat Out. Other supporters include the Inner North Community Foundation Group.

Listen to the podcast here


September News

Whilst our offices remain closed, FLS staff continue to work tirelessly to support and advocate for our clients.  The impacts of COVID-19 on the Victorian community have been significant and will continue to be felt well into the future.  This difficult situation continues to challenge us to think creatively and look at innovative ways to deliver vital services to clients at a time when they need us more than ever.   We also continue to advocate to ensure that the restrictions and use of extraordinary powers are lawful, proportionate and justified, and supported Liberty Victoria's call that "the Victorian Government limit any extension of the state of emergency to a maximum of six months, and to commit to four-weekly reviews within that period to ensure that limits on human rights and freedoms will only continue where necessary".   We were disappointed to be advised by Victoria Police of a change in their approach to policing the COVID-19 restrictions, moving from the previous approach involving education and guidance to a stronger enforcement approach.  Our COVID-19 telephone advice line continues to be offered to provide free legal advice to individuals who may have received a fine, had an internal review rejected by Victoria Police and/or been treated unfairly or targeted.

FLS was thrilled to recently receive support for three initiatives.  We have been funded to be involved in the roll-out of the Specialist Family Violence Courts Model at Heidelberg Magistrates Court, in conjunction with Victoria Legal Aid.  The purpose of the new new model is to deliver client centred quality legal services in the Specialist Family Violence Courts that are easy to access, safe to use and integrated within the family violence service system.   We have also received an Information, Linkages and Capacity Building Grant from the Australian Government Department of Social Services.  This grant will allow us to work with Voices for Change to support self advocacy for people with acquired brain injury and lived experience of the criminal justice system.  Through the support of the Victorian and Federal Governments, we will embark on a redevelopment of The Law Handbook website, to ensure that plain language legal information is more accessible to members of our community, assisting them to address their legal problems and ultimately positively impacting on community health and wellbeing.

For further updates please keep reading below.

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As we reach the halfway point of a very challenging 2020, Fitzroy Legal Service welcomes recent confirmation of additional funding from the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments.  We acknowledge Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy and Commonwealth Attorney-General Christian Porter for their leadership.  This funding recognises that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on people’s lives and provides additional resources to meet the increased demand for our services.  We have also recently received support from the City of Yarra's Family Violence COVID-19 Quick Response Grants and the Inner North Community Foundation's COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants.  A huge thank you to all involved.

For an update on some of our work please keep reading below.

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