When the law says you don't need to ask why: how a cancer patient ended up in prison

When the law says you don't need to ask why: how a cancer patient ended up in prison

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

When Ari (not his real name) was arrested for missing a payment on his significant infringements debt, no one asked him whether his cancer or his subsequent inability to work much had played a part.

Ari, a machine operator who was waiting for a particular cancer treatment, had been following court orders and making payments on his Citylink fines for two years before he defaulted.

It may have been his poor proficiency with English that prevented his situation becoming known as he was taken to prison, but the absence of a legal requirement to ask would see him remain there for some weeks.

‘That is the unfortunate reality when imprisonment in lieu orders apply to repayment arrangements as they did in Ari’s case, Broadmeadows Managing Lawyer Tom Munro explained.

‘It’s all done by computer, so there’s a record of when you pay into the court and there’s a program that checks to see if there’s been a default and if you’re two minutes late with a payment, an auto alert is sent to the sheriff’s office.  They get a warrant and lock you up.’

It was a distressed relative who told his story at a night session run by the Fitzroy Legal Service.  Night Service co-ordinating lawyer Adrian Snodgrass and day service lawyer Jane Vasey prepared an affidavit and presented medical materials to the Magistrate’s Court showing the change in Ari’s circumstances.

The Court expedited the hearing and sought out a Victoria Legal Aid lawyer to apply for revocation of the warrant.

After hearing Tom’s arguments, the Magistrate ordered Ari’s release and discharged his fines in full.

Ari, who appeared in court via video link from prison, was overwhelmed by the prospect of release and broke down in tears as the translator’s words sunk in.

‘It is sad that a man suffering from cancer was sent to jail for a month when he should never have been sent to jail,’ Tom said. ‘Unfortunately with no judicial oversight of imprisonment in lieu breaches, this will happen again.’

Jane described Ari’s imprisonment as ‘deeply concerning’, saying it denied him urgent treatment.

‘There are systemic issues with the infringements system, both in terms of process and basic concepts of proportionality,’ she said.

‘Tax evasion involving much greater sums of money does not attract the same level of draconian response.’

How we can help

Read information about Fines and infringements.

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