Victoria Legal Aid welcomes recommendations to reform unfair fines system

Victoria Legal Aid welcomes recommendations to reform unfair fines system

Friday, 30 May 2014

Sweeping recommendations for further reform of the fines system have been welcomed by Victoria Legal Aid.

Following today’s release of a Sentencing Advisory Council report into the fines system, Victoria Legal Aid Social Inclusion Program Manager Joel Townsend said the recommendations, if adopted, would address concerns that the fines system is severely affecting the most vulnerable in the community.

‘The current system has had a disproportionate impact on people affected by disability, mental illness, homelessness or poverty,’ Mr Townsend said. ‘We agree with the Council that people who can’t pay their fines for these reasons should be treated differently to people who can afford to pay but deliberately avoid payment.

‘In the current system financial hardship is not regarded as a ‘special circumstance’ which can lead to a fine being waived where appropriate.

‘We believe the Council’s recommendation that infringement penalties be reduced by 50 per cent for people on government concessions is much fairer.

‘It will help to ensure that people who just don’t have the means to pay fines are not dealt with more harshly than those who can afford to do so.

‘We also welcome the recommendation that imprisonment should be a measure of last resort. Vulnerable people should not go to jail because of a lack of flexibility and discretion in the system.’

Mr Townsend said that the Fines Reform Bill, presently before the Victorian Parliament, has already introduced positive initiatives to tackle some of the unjust aspects of the system.

‘The Bill will create a centralised system for the management of fines and streamlined, user-friendly payment and review processes. This has the potential to ensure that accumulated fines don’t become overwhelming for those with low literacy, limited English skills, or illness or disability.

‘The present system is complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate for these people.’

The Bill’s introduction of work and development permits as a way of dealing with fines is also welcomed by Victoria Legal Aid. These permits allow people with mental illness or intellectual disability, drug or alcohol addiction, or financial hardship, to undertake treatment or counselling, or to build their life skills through voluntary work, courses or mentoring, instead of paying a fine, and have been successful in New South Wales.

‘The Sentencing Advisory Council rightly recommends that this option be further expanded so that a person can apply for it at any stage of the process,’ Mr Townsend said.

More information

Read the full Sentencing Advisory Council report: Imposition and Enforcement of Court Fines and Infringement Penalties in Victoria

Also see our justice and law reform activities about vulnerable people and fines.

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