How we helped a woman with special circumstances reduce her fines debt

How we helped a woman with special circumstances reduce her fines debt

Emma (not her real name) had been struggling to keep track of the fines that had built up as she drove to and from work on a toll road. Her attention was consumed by the complexities in her life that were wearing her down.

What Emma didn’t realise was that her fines could be enforced by way of a term of imprisonment. In fact, the penalty enforcement warrants that would come her way could have seen the mother of four jailed for more than five years.

Emma's story

Emma was doing shiftwork and the tollway was the quickest route home. She also used the tollway to get her son, who needed ongoing medical support, to his appointments.

Life was difficult for Emma at this time. She separated from her partner, suffered from mental health concerns and was drinking alcohol in increasing levels.

Finally she quit work to deal with her issues and those of her children. During this time, the amounts appearing in the window letters seemed overwhelming.

She would be shocked, as her case progressed, to learn that in most instances, the amounts had been more than doubled by the addition of agency fees for pursuit of payment.

Photo of a woman and young boy smiling.

Taking special circumstances into account

Our lawyer presented the Magistrates’ Court with the medical opinion that symptoms of a mental health disorder had contributed to Emma incurring the fines and also her inability to deal with them.

Her ongoing issues with alcohol were also raised as an influencing factor.

Why jail would be disproportionately harsh

In arguing that jail would be disproportionately harsh, our lawyer noted that Emma was a single mother whose responsibilities included the multiple special needs of one son that impacted greatly on the family.

There was also no possibility that on her limited income she would be able to pay back the full amount she owed.

The outcome

The final outcome of separate Magistrates’ Court hearings was the discharge of the bulk of Emma’s debt, with a monthly payment required on the remainder.

‘Ultimately, the court recognised Emma’s special circumstances and this matter will now be one less worry as she deals with the underlying issues that got her to this point,’ her lawyer said.

‘It’s important for others who might be facing similar CityLink or EastLink problems to know that, if they are living with mental health problems, addiction or homelessness, these things can be taken into account.’

How we can help you

If you’re having trouble dealing with fines, find out how you can get help.

More information

If you can show that you had 'special circumstances' when you broke the law and got a fine, you may not have to pay the fine. Find out what is a special circumstance and how you can get referred to the Special Circumstances List.

See how our legal work helped change the system to keep disadvantaged people out of jail.