Monday 1 November 2021
The Aboriginal Legal Service is warning that excessive fines and charges issued by NSW Police will have an unsustainable impact on courts and slow the state’s recovery from COVID-19.
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) recently reported that NSW Police issued an extraordinary 36,597 COVID-19 public health order breaches in July and August 2021, accounting for 90% of breaches issued during the pandemic to date.
BOCSAR found that “increased enforcement activity” was the “major factor driving breaches” and the large number of fines and charges did not “[reflect] underlying patterns of non-compliance”.
“While the vast majority of the community were doing their best to protect one another, NSW Police were having a free-for-all, handing out fines and charges with very little scrutiny. Now as we’re expected to emerge out the other side from COVID, over $33 million of fine debt is hanging over people’s heads and our courts are about to be backlogged with people upholding their right to contest fines,” said Anthony Carter, Deputy CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited.
“This kind of excessive policing harms our communities rather than helping them. The data shows this fining blitz did not make us any safer, but entrenched disadvantage for people already doing it tough. We already know the most fines compared to population size were handed out in Brewarrina, a town with one of the highest Aboriginal populations and lowest income levels in NSW,” Mr Carter said.
BOCSAR found that almost half of breaches (49.7%) involved individuals who were previously proceeded against by police for another offence in the last five years. Mr Carter said this was no surprise.
“In the height of the pandemic, we worked with clients who said they were being followed and harassed under the guise of COVID policing,” Mr Carter said.
This aligns with BOCSAR’s analysis which showed that of the number of people fined for failing to comply with ministerial directions, 48% of the police interactions also involved searches of the person, location or vehicle.
“There are certainly Aboriginal community members who believe they were targeted because of their past interactions with police,” Mr Carter said.
The BOCSAR report said “while only a small proportion of all breaches resulted in a court attendance notice (7.8%), this equates to an additional 2,854 matters for the Local Court” and predicted an increase in court matters contesting fines.
“NSW courts are already overloaded. If the NSW Government doesn’t step in with relief for these tens of thousands of fines, the burden on our courts will be immense and access to justice will be compromised,” Mr Carter said.
The Aboriginal Legal Service is supporting Aboriginal people with COVID-related fines and charges. People needing support can call 1800 765 767 or email [email protected].
Media contact: Alyssa Robinson - 0427 346 017 - [email protected]