Australia to withdraw or refund thousands of Covid fines after landmark court case

NSW officials will scrap little more than half the 62,138 Covid-related fines issued

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 29 November 2022 13:17 GMT

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Tens of thousands of Covid fines will be dropped or refunded after government lawyers in Australia conceded that some were invalid.

The state of New South Wales said 33,121 fines – a little more than half the 62,138 fines issued – will be scrapped, while millions of dollars will be refunded to those who already paid them.

It follows a test case brought against the state by a legal advocacy group.

During the pandemic, the police in NSW issued fines of about A$1,000 (£560) to individuals who breached public health orders.

Justice Dina Yehia told an NSW Supreme Court hearing in Sydney that she would order refunds be given for two fines issued during last year’s public health lockdowns.

She accepted that the evidence given on Tuesday that the fines did not include a sufficiently detailed description of the offences and were, thus, invalid.

Redfern Legal Centre, a free legal service, launched a test case in July on behalf of three plaintiffs, arguing their fines of between A$1,000-3,000 (£560-1,682) were invalid because the penalty notices did not sufficiently describe the offence.

Government lawyers conceded the plaintiff’s fines did not meet legal requirements at a hearing in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Katherine Richardson, who appeared for the plaintiffs in the case against the NSW Police Commissioner and the Commissioner of Fines Administration, called for an immediate refund.

“It’s accepted that the two penalties don’t contain a description about the substance of the offence. We were in furious agreement over that,” Ms Richardson told the court.

“It’s only at the eleventh hour the Crown has finally accepted that these were invalid.”

Revenue NSW, meanwhile, said the decision to withdraw the fines did not mean the offences had not been committed.

“The Commissioner of Fines Administration is able to independently review or withdraw penalty notices,” the agency said in a statement.

Acting principal solicitor for Redfern Legal Centre, Samantha Lee, was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press that they were “bombarded by calls from people who had been issued with Covid fines” during the lockdown, “so today we’re ecstatic, it’s a real win for the people”.

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