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Current approach to fines exacerbates disadvantage and disproportionately affects vulnerable people, Justice Project finds

 

As the Justice Project team continues to examine more than 100 submissions and consolidate the notes from the extensive consultations some consistent and strong themes have emerged.

Countless case studies have highlighted the real need for access to timely legal advice in preventing small legal problems from snowballing into much larger issues, where debts and fines potentially escalate into criminal law matters.

What starts out as relatively minor issues of fines and penalty notices can have real and lasting impacts on people, especially those experiencing economic disadvantage.

The Justice Project team has heard the story of an Aboriginal man, with caring responsibilities for his nephews provided by Kingsford Legal Centre.

The man bought a car, and after paying for his compulsory third party insurance went to the local Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) office to pay for his registration.

The man was advised that as he was on a pension he did not need pay for his registration. A police officer stopped the man for driving unregistered and issued a substantial fine, which he could not afford to pay.

He now had a massive fine, no car to transport his nephews to and from school, and a mess to sort out getting his car registered and insured.

Fortunately, the man was able to access legal advice from Kingsford Legal Centre. They were able to apply for review of the fine, which was withdrawn, and negotiated for the RMS to reimburse the cost of registering his car again.

If the man was unable to access that advice it is possible and likely his situation would have become far worse. An unpaid fine can lead to license suspension. Due to his caring responsibilities there would have been pressure on him to drive.

Driving while suspended is a criminal offence which can lead to licence disqualification & a very hefty fine. If there are repeat offences, a jail term is a possibility, along with a lengthy period of license disqualification. The impact on man and on his family, would have been huge.

This one man’s story demonstrates the desperate need for access to timely legal advice, which is crucial in preventing small legal problems from snowballing into larger problems. It also highlights a key area of law reform, which is consistent with the Justice Project’s research.

This example identifies that fines, civil penalties and infringements have disproportionate impacts on vulnerable people, compounding their financial disadvantage and in some jurisdictions leading to imprisonment.

Many Justice Project stakeholders have called for different approaches to this issue in the future. The Justice Project team is finalising a report, which will include further case studies, key themes and recommendations.

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