Fines are an integral part of the justice system in NSW which ensures compliance with laws and regulations. They are the most common penalty imposed by the courts of summary jurisdiction in Australia. They, alongside taxes, also form a core component of the revenue that funds government operations. In parking fines alone, Sydney councils have collected more than $650 million over the last four years. But has the prevalence of fines escalated recently?
Currently in NSW there are fines for traffic offences, such as speeding or not wearing a seat belt, public transport offences, such as travelling without a ticket, other minor criminal offences such as offensive behaviour and there are local council fines for parking, littering, not having pets properly registered, as well as fines for not paying road tolls.
You will have noticed two new major fines in the recent weeks. Firstly, the NSW government is rolling out fines for drivers caught using their mobile phones (read more here) and secondly, a new set of fines are being introduced in relation to the introduction of the new Sydney light rail. Drivers face a $191 fine if they are caught in a tram safety zone, overtake a tram turning right or if they fail to give way to a pedestrian. A $344 fine may be imposed if drivers don’t give way to a tram or drive through a dividing strip break. Pedestrians also face a $76 fine for crossing unsafely near trams – more than 150 pedestrians have already been issued with such a fine. Cyclists face a $268 fine for entering tramways, which are marked by two parallel lines or a fence.
Most fees and fines in NSW can be paid by going to the NSW Government Revenue website which processes payments for over 250 separate organisations, including local councils, NSW Police, Sydney Trains. NSW Government Revenue also directly issues penalties for camera-detected offences like speeding, driving through a red light and driving in bus lanes. In the future, this will also include the camera-detected offences of using a mobile phone while driving.
Thus, there is an increased use of fines, issued not by the courts and judiciary, but by government revenue agencies and often automatically issued for camera-detected offences. This means there is little public scrutiny over their accuracy or fairness. Fines do not involve the traditional procedural safeguards of the courts, such as the presumption of innocence and a court hearing where the circumstances of the offence and the financial means of the offender are considered. Another issue is that where individuals are unwilling or unable to pay, they may be imprisoned for default.
Introducing new fines is a serious matter, and when this happens it is important that we as citizens scrutinise whether we agree with the decision, whether the offence is serious and if the increase in fines is a broader issue of which we need to be aware. Some critics argue that the increase of fines is a symptom of a broader trend, which is the commercialisation of justice.
If you are facing an unjust penalty such as a fine, contact us at Freedman & Gopalan Solicitors to discuss your options.