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How should I deal with a Coronavirus fine?

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Two Men Wearing Masks While Walking on a StreetWritten by Amelia Ramsay, Associate, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers

Do not pay a Coronavirus fine before you have spoken to a lawyer

You must stay home… except if you need food, but it must be essential food. You can exercise with one other person you do not normally live with but only if you are 1.5 metres apart and do not go far from home. You can continue to care for a child but only if you are not above 60 years old. You can get your hair cut but only if it does not go for longer than 30 minutes. If it is difficult for you to understand what you can and cannot do during these times, rest assured, Victoria Police officers are grappling with it too.

The Federal and State Governments have issued a number of directions as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The main direction is Victoria is the Stay at Home Direction (No.2). There are exceptions to this direction that allow you to leave home:

  • to obtain food, drink or groceries,
  • for health or medical purposes, including appointment and goods;
  • to obtain goods or services from services or businesses that remain open, such as banks, post offices, pharmacies, hardware stores, vets and other retail;
  • to care for children or visit children as part of parenting arrangements or where the child is in detention;
  • to care for people with health issues;
  • to visit someone they’re in an intimate personal relationship with, such as a girlfriend, boyfriend or partner;
  • to visit aged care facilities, hospitals, go to a wedding or funeral or donate blood;
  • to attend paid or voluntary work or education that cannot be done at home;
  • to exercise;
  • as required by law, including to attend a police station or court;
  • if they live in more than one place, to move between premises;
  • move house, or leave Victoria or Australia, where the person lives in another state or country; or
  • to escape harm including family violence, or in an emergency.

In the last couple of days, these exceptions have been updated to include the following, which will come into effect at 11:59pm on Tuesday 12 May 2020:

  • outdoor gatherings being permitted with up to 10 people
  • indoor gatherings at home are permitted, with 5 visitors able to visit the normal residents of a household
  • the ability to leave the house for exercise will be expanded to include outdoor recreational activities. These activities can occur in groups of up to 10 people outside, but the requirements on physical distancing remain
  • for weddings 10 guests are allowed, plus the couple and the celebrant
  • for funerals, 20 people will be allowed at an indoor ceremony and 30 people at an outside ceremony. This is in addition to the minimum people required to conduct the funeral
  • religious gatherings and ceremonies will be permitted with up to 10 people, plus those required to perform the ceremony

The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic) makes it an offence to fail to comply with a direction or other requirement made under the Stay at Home Direction (No. 2). However, under s 203(2) of the Act a person is not guilty of this offence if the person had a “reasonable excuse” for not complying.

Thousands of fines have been issued in Victoria but already some of those have been withdrawn following review.

Get advice

If you have received a fine or infringement from Victoria police, your first stop should be to speak to a lawyer. Do this well before the fine is due to be paid as your lawyer may need time to prepare a written application for internal review.

Ask for an Internal Review

You can ask Victoria Police to review the fine. You can do that in circumstances where you believe:

  • The fine was issued contrary to law;
  • You did it but there were exceptional circumstances which mean you should not pay the fine;
  • There has been a mistake of identity;
  • You were unaware of the fine and it was not personally given to you;
  • You had special circumstances; or
  • The fine was a result of family violence.

These are the only reasons the police will consider withdrawing your fine. If your application for review does not fall within one of these categories, you will not be successful. You are only allowed one review which is why it is important to get it right. Written submissions addressing the legislation directly is the most persuasive way of seeking a review. This is where we can assist. Make sure you speak to a lawyer before submitting an application for internal review.

If you do submit an application for review, you will receive a response in writing within 90 days. Victoria Police may cancel the fine or change the fine. If they do not cancel or withdraw the fine then you may want to consider challenging it in the Magistrates’ Court.

Take it to Court

In this instance, the matter is not dealt with by Victoria Police, who issued the fine, but it is dealt with by an independent arbitrator or Magistrate. At Court you would be seeking to contest the infringement on the grounds that you had a “reasonable excuse” under s.203(2) of the Act.

What is a reasonable excuse is not necessarily confined to the above list of exceptions. To use an all-too-familiar phrase, ‘these are unprecedented times’ and whether a “reasonable excuse” will arise in a particular set of circumstances pertaining to the Stay at Home direction will likely be the subject of litigation.

A Magistrate will ultimately find you guilty or not guilty of failing to comply with the direction.

It is important to be aware that, when you elect to have your infringement dealt with at Court, you run the risk that a Magistrate may increase the penalty originally received so get advice first.

Do not be afraid to ask questions if you receive an infringement. Speaking to a lawyer will help you to work out whether you have actually done the wrong thing or whether the police have been heavy-handed in giving you an infringement.

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