The New South Wales government in Australia has been forced to cancel more than $30 million (€19.5 million) in fines for breaches of Covid-era public health orders after conceding they were too vague.
On Tuesday, Revenue NSW announced it had cancelled some 33,000 Covid-era fines, about half the total number issued by police for breaches of the public health orders during pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021.
The fines were withdrawn after government lawyers conceded on Tuesday that two test cases brought by the Redfern Legal Centre did not provide sufficient detail about the offence, a breach of the Fines Act.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Revenue NSW said the decision “does not mean the offences were not committed”, but acknowledged that “all sanctions” related to the fines – including driving licence restrictions or garnishee orders – would cease.
Fines which had already been paid would be refunded, the spokesperson said.
“A total of 33,121 fines will be withdrawn, which is around half of the total number of 62,138 Covid-19 related fines issued.”
The withdrawn fines related to two breaches of the orders: “Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 – Covid-19” for an individual and a company. The fines amounted to $1,000 (€650) for an individual and up to $55,000 (€35,725) for a corporation.
Redfern Legal Centre had argued the fines did not provide enough detail of the alleged offence, and brought three cases before the supreme court.
In one, involving Rohan Pank, who was fined $1,000 while sitting in a Sydney park with his girlfriend, the government withdrew the fine on the day the case was lodged.
In court on Tuesday the government conceded the fines issued in the other two cases brought by the RLC were also invalid.
One of the two test cases was a $3,000 fine issued to plaintiff Teal Els for “unlawfully participating in an outdoor public gathering”.
The RLC said it believed about 163 people had been issued with a similar fine, and in the wake of Tuesday’s hearing Sam Lee, the centre’s principal solicitor, said those fines should also be withdrawn.
However, the government went further, withdrawing more than 30,000 fines.
“What an incredible day for the people,” Mr Lee said.
“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.” – The Guardian