After two Sydneysiders won a landmark case and the NSW government declared the fines invalid, more than 33,000 Covid violators will be eligible for refunds.
Scott Johnson, NSW Revenue Commissioner of Fines Administration Scott Johnson stated that he will cancel all fines issued in accordance with two legal provisions during the pandemic.
All of those who paid fines for ‘fail to comply with noticed direction in relation to section 7/8/9 – Covid-19 – Individual’ and ‘fail to comply with noticed direction in relation to section 7/8/9 – Covid-19 – company’, will get refunds.
The total 33,121 fines that will be withdrawn are more than half the number of NSW issued fines.
According to a statement, additional 29,017 penalties will have to be paid.
After a successful test case at the NSW Supreme Court, thousands of Covid-19 penalties worth millions of dollars could be invalidated. Pictured is a couple being questioned by police at Sydney’s Bondi Beach on August 1 last year
Bondi residents were photographed exercising last September surrounded by officers
Both the woman and man claimed that their infringement notifications were written in such vague terms that they were not legal and therefore could not be enforced.
Barrister David Kell SC, for the Commissioner of Police, informed the Supreme Court that the Covid penalty notices against the two men would not be enforced on Tuesday morning.
He stated that the two notices did not adequately describe or state the offenses in general terms.
Brenden Beame (the claimant) and TealEls (the defendant) will receive their fines back. Rohan Pank, a third claimant was already repaid his fine.
The ruling could set a precedent that sees many of more than 45,000 unpaid penalty notices for Covid-related public health order breaches in NSW withdrawn.
Kate Richardson SC represented the claimants. She stated that there were 32 648 fines, totalling nearly $33 million, issued for the same reason given to Mr Beame. If challenged, they would also be declared legally invalid.
She Justice Dina Yehia has been asked to provide detailed reasons why the fines were declared invalid in order to make it “absolutely clear” why they were withdrawn.
Ms Richardson stated, “This case has ramifications above Ms Els or Mr Beame,”
Ms. Els was penalized $3,000 for participating in an illegal outdoor public gathering.
A class action in NSW could be launched now, and similar suits in other states will likely follow.
For breaches of Covid lockdown laws in Victoria, 19,000 were handed out. Tens of thousands were issued across Australia.
Redfern Legal Centre represented Mr Beame as well as Ms Els.
After the administrative court action, Mr Pank’s $1,000 fine was retracted in July.
In July, the court heard that fines of millions of dollars could be issued in NSW if the claims succeed.
Between March 2020 and July 2019, there were 62.029 Covid fines totalling $56,499.080.
As of May, 47.560 fines, totaling $42,269.700, remained unpaid.
The majority of penalty notices were issued during Sydney’s lockdown, which was August and September 2013.
Many of those who were fined requested a review. Revenue NSW had withdrawn 12.6 percent of the penalty notices as of July.
In March 2013, police drove through Rushcutters Bay Park, Sydney’s east, in an attempt to fine residents for violating Covid restrictions.
In August 2021, Mr Pank and his girlfriend sat on a hill in a Park together. Four police officers approached them while Sydney was locked down.
He Police located him within 1 km of his home, and informed him that his girlfriend and he had broken a public health order in not exercising.
There was confusion at the time about the meaning of terms like “exercise or recreation” and the interpretations of the public health orders.
After Mr Pank’s arrest, NSW Health declared that sitting for relaxation was outdoor recreation.
He Redfern Legal Centre reported that the man had asked for two reviews of his infringement notification, but Revenue NSW refused both.
Between March 2020 and July 20,22, there were 62.029 Covid fines totaling $56,499.080. In May, 47.560 Covid fines totaling $42,2699,000700 were still unpaid
According to the agency, Pank was first told by police that he shouldn’t be leaving his home without a reason.
It also claimed that Mr Pank had violated a public order by entering the City of Sydney via the Inner West local governance area, where he resides.
Mr Pank was sitting in a park. Outdoor recreation was permitted within 10km from a person’s house, with no restriction on their ability to stay within their municipal boundaries.
Samantha Lee, senior lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre for Police Accountability, said that public health orders had changed 71x between July 2011 and September 2013. Sometimes, even twice in one day.
She said, “Everyone was just confused.” “What we saw was this pattern of people getting fined not according the law.
Police were not correctly applying public health orders. We found that Revenue NSW was either not following the law correctly or applying it incorrectly.
The majority of penalty notices were issued during Sydney’s lockdown, which was in August and September. The mask was required at one point for beachgoers (pictured), who weren’t swimming or exercising.
Ms Lee stated that fines are generally given to those who engage in exercise or recreation, and for not following distance rules. However, some were issued for basic activities like grocery shopping.
She said that in most cases, people were not breaking the laws. The laws were being used incorrectly.
“The core of our matter is that these Covid Fines are not Fines because they do not satisfy the legislative requirement under Fines Act.”
Many of those fined asked for a revue. Revenue NSW has withdrawn 12.6 percent of the penalty notices. Pictured: A police officer speaking to a man in the park
There were many clauses within the ten public-health orders. But, the fines did not specify which clause was alleged to have been broken.
For example, Section 7 and 8 of the orders covered Mr Pank’s alleged infringement.
Ms Lee claimed that Covid fines were applied in strict liability. She cited the example of parking in a zone with no stopping, but no intent was required.
She stated that police had to exercise a lot more discretion when deciding if someone was guilty or not.
“We discovered that the review system, and the police system were not providing justice to the people on the ground. In fact, they were getting it all wrong.”
Ms Lee claimed that Covid infringement notifications did not specify the alleged wrongdoing.
She stated that the fine does not tell you what crime was committed. “For example, the gathering fine only states that you have gathered.
“It doesn’t state what you’ve violated. This made it impossible for you to appeal because you don’t know what police need to prove.
“We are convinced that there were many issues because they were vague and easy to issue.”
There were hundreds clauses within ten public safety orders. However, it was not clear which one had been violated in the fines. A couple of beachgoers were questioned by police officers in August 2021.
During lockdowns, residents living in poorer neighborhoods received an excessive number of fines.
Ms Lee explained that fines don’t have to be considered on a person’s income and penalize them more for the same crime if they aren’t.
Between July 2020 to October 2018, 1,536 fines totalling $1.366,380 were issued to Mount Druitt residents, and 1,291 at Liverpool worth $1,157.680 – both in Sydney’s West – as compared with only 25 at Waverley ($24,000).
Ms Lee stated that there was more police in the areas with the highest fines and restrictive orders.
She said that ‘those people were more outgoing because they had to go to work’. “Many of them couldn’t work at home.”
Revenue NSW’s July 15 letter to Pank did not adequately explain why the fine was removed after it had been reviewed third time.
Between July 2020 to October 2018, 1,536 fines totaling $1,366,380 were issued to Mount Druitt residents. 1,291 at Liverpool cost $1,157,680, compared with 25 at Waverley ($24,000). Pictured: A man riding in a truck and showing a permit to a NSW officer
The agency stated that they had reexamined your request for Fine 4066740792 in respect to “Failure to comply with observed direction in relation section 7/8/9 COVID-19 Individual” on 07 August 2021.
“Outcome of our Review: We reexamined the fine using the Review Guidelines, and after further consideration, decided to cancel the fine.”
Ms Lee said that she was not surprised that Mr Pank had his fine retracted after his court papers were filed.
She He said that his fine should have been withdrawn upon the first review. It should not have been issued. The police got it wrong, and Revenue was also wrong.
Ms Lee encouraged those who were penalized for similar reasons to come forward and seek legal advice, as well as a review of the fine.
Online, there was an immediate response. Many people praised the move while others criticised the fact that fines were ever issued at all.
‘Great decision,’ one said. “Moral of the story?” Police Members should really, really need to understand what they’re enforcing …
‘Some were fuelled by ego & high testosterone levels & instead of using their discretionary powers, they’ve wasted taxpayer funds in these court proceedings.’