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Further Supreme Court application filed seeking withdrawal of COVID fines

Yet another application has been filed in the NSW Supreme Court seeking the withdrawal of invalid COVID-19 fines, which reportedly fail to meet legal requirements and disproportionately impact “socially and financially disadvantaged” people.

user iconLauren Croft 20 July 2023 Big Law
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Another NSW Supreme Court application has been filed by Redfern Legal Centre seeking the withdrawal of a COVID-19 fine on the grounds of invalidity. To date, 33,000 COVID fines have been withdrawn following the first Supreme Court case late last year, with 29,000 remaining.

This matter relates to a homeless woman who was issued a $3,000 COVID fine for leaving Greater Sydney without a permit. She was living out of her van and waiting near the NSW border for a permit to enter South Australia, where a friend had offered her accommodation.

The Redfern Legal Centre client represents one of 29,000 COVID fines that have not been withdrawn by Revenue NSW despite the NSW Supreme Court finding that two other COVID fines before the court were invalid as they failed to meet the legal requirements of the Fines Act 1996 (NSW).


In those matters, the court found that a penalty notice offence must specify clearly and unambiguously the offence that has been committed and held that the short description identifying the substance of the penalty notice offence was insufficient and did not comply with Australian law.

Redfern Legal Centre instructing senior solicitor Samantha Lee said that all remaining COVID fines also fail to meet legal requirements outlined in the Supreme Court judgment and “are therefore invalid”.

“We expected Revenue NSW to withdraw all remaining COVID fines following the Supreme Court’s judgment earlier this year, but this has not occurred,” she said.

“We are filing this case because the fine system in NSW needs to be fair and abide by the rule of law. Fines can have a crippling impact on those who are socially and financially disadvantaged. We know from statistics obtained from NSW Police that COVID fines were disproportionately issued to communities with a high proportion of First Nations populations and in low socioeconomic areas. It is, therefore, especially important that fines that are invalid are withdrawn.

“The aim of this case is to seek justice for all those who were issued with an invalid COVID fine. We have filed this case to inform the government we will not give up on the people of NSW.”

In August last year, the NSW government also decided not to replace fines issued to about 3,000 children, with cautions, with the suggestion that children as young as 10 could work off COVID fines by engaging with work and development orders (WDOs), a program that places children in unpaid work, counselling courses or treatment programs, to work off their fines. However, this suggestion was revealed to be a potential breach of international law.

This came after a number of legal bodies urged the government to exercise caution when issuing COVID-19 fines, with the Aboriginal Legal Centre back in 2021 warning that excessive public health fines and charges would only cause further harm to communities. At the time, the organisation said they had received a number of calls from Aboriginal people fined and charged for breaching the public health orders in towns including Brewarrina, Bourke, Walgett and Wilcannia, as well as Sydney.

“Statistics from Revenue NSW and NSW Police have shown that the majority of COVID fines were issued to those living in low socioeconomic areas and to areas with high levels of First Nations populations. These fines were for $1,000, $3,000 or $5,000. Most can’t afford to pay such large fines, especially children,” Ms Lee added.

“The current fine system is not fit for purpose. Current penalty notices do not inform people of the offence, the person alleged to have committed and what the prosecution needs to prove. This is a basic legal right which the fine system is failing to meet.”

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