Less than five per cent of almost 20,000 fines dished out to Victorians caught breaching coronavirus restrictions have been paid in full, new figures have revealed.
The Department of Justice data, released under Freedom of Information laws to NCA NewsWire, showed only 845 of 19,324 infringements handed out by Victoria Police as of August 24 had been paid.
Almost $27.9 million in fines had been issued to Victorians caught breaking the rules since the chief health officer’s coronavirus restrictions were introduced in March in response to the global pandemic.
But as of August 24 only $1.45 million in payments had been received, a little over five per cent of the total value.
Of the 19,324 issued, 1489 had been withdrawn or cancelled, while 1638 were under a payment plan arrangement.
About 18 per cent – 3455 infringements – had been registered with Fines Victoria for enforcement meaning they had reached the “notice of final demand” stage.
It’s understood the remaining 11,897 fines were still yet to be paid, under review or being challenged.
Since August 24, at least another 6322 fines have been issued for breaches of the restrictions but it is not yet known how many of those have been paid.
A State Government spokeswoman said only a “small proportion” of COVID fines had not been paid before time had expired.
“For many recently issued fines there is still time for people to pay,” she said.
She said the fines had played a critical role in sending a clear message that anyone who blatantly and deliberately breached the directives would be penalised.
“Those who don’t follow the directives pose a risk to the broader community – and police will respond accordingly,” the spokeswoman said.
When a fine is issued by Victoria Police a person is given 28-day deadline to pay. If they fail to do so they are issued a penalty reminder notice along with a further 21-day period to pay.
Once that 49-day period expires the infringement is handed to Fines Victoria who issues a notice of final demand to pay within 21 days before the agency can exercise its powers to resolve outstanding infringements.
Those who refuse to pay beyond a notice of final demand period could face a range of additional enforcement measures such as vehicle wheel clamping, suspension of a vehicle’s registration, seizure and selling of personal property and even imprisonment.
Youthlaw advocacy and human rights officer Tiffany Overall told NCA NewsWire the fines system did tend to be very slow and cumbersome.
“A lot of these fines there’s going to be quite a lot of merit to people seeking reviews with Victoria Police so it’s quite understandable a lot are caught in that middle ground just trying to get clarification on their fine,” she said.
“Some of those people fined, it’s a little bit grey and dubious about whether it was an actually breach or whether in their particular exceptional circumstances maybe the police could have exercised discretion to give a warning.”
But she said from their experience helping several dozens of people where they believed there was merit to withdraw the fine, they had found it very difficult to challenge and get it reviewed and hadn’t been successful yet.
Ms Overall said another problematic aspect of the COVID fines was there hadn’t been any adjustment or accommodation for children and the amounts were up to 10 times more than what would normally be processed within the children’s court.
“I just don’t know how you expect them to pay even if they wanted to,” she said.
“It looks like for a lot of young people these COVID fines will stay with them for a long time and that’s really problematic.”
Stan Winford, associate director for the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University, said fines subject to appeals or reviews, or applying for a caution like with speeding tickets, could extend the time take for fines to be processed.
“These are unprecedented so they haven’t had a history building up expertise of whether or not people have an excuse or if they should exercise discretion of whether or not to proceed,” he said.
“A discretion means interpreting things based on variable factors and that can be a tricky thing to do without lots of guidance or precedent.”