Victoria Police are being urged to help young people comply with the requirement to wear masks, educate them about the recently reinstated Stay at Home restrictions, and wipe fines issued to children to date.
Youthlaw, a specialist legal centre for young people, and other community legal centres have written to the Victorian Chief Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, urging him to instruct police to give children and young people a warning for the first COVID infringement and educate young people about the restrictions.
The letter also calls on Commissioner Patton to honour his public commitment to review and wipe COVID fines that have been issued to children under 18 year, where the circumstances which fail a common sense test.
Youthlaw community lawyers are currently helping a number of clients aged between 14-17 who have received $1652 fines for breaching stay-at-home directions, who in many cases didn’t know about the extent of the restrictions, and have no capacity to pay the fines.
Youthlaw used the example of one client, a 16-year-old refugee living in Australia with extended family, who was walking with a friend in the early morning when he was approached by a stranger asking for directions. Police fined the boy and his friend $1652 each for breaking the two-person rule.
Another client, a 17 year-old female living in residential care, was fined after going to McDonald’s with friends, despite not knowing about the restrictions.
“Instead of fining teens they come across not complying with current regulations, we are asking police to help them stay safe and comply by giving them information and a mask if they don’t have one.” said Youthlaw Policy and Advocacy Manager, Tiffany Overall
“It’s pointless lumping teens with enormous fines that they’ll never be able to pay. How does this serve to keep the community safe? It only serves to clog up the legal system, bring a lot of stress and anxiety to teens and their families in dealing with the fines, and bring young people into contact with courts.”
“The Victorian legal system permits courts to issue fines up to a maximum of $165.20 for children under 15, and for 15+ year olds, up to a maximum of $826, so the COVID fines are much greater than any young person could receive for an offence,” said Ms Overall.
Although there is a formal avenue to dispute fines like this, Youthlaw and other legal centres say that the internal review process applies a rigid assessment of whether an offence has been committed, with very little consideration of special circumstances relating to complex young people
Youthlaw says the lack of lack of transparency about COVID fines in Victoria is worrying, and that the number and nature of fines being issued should be on the public record.
“The public deserves to know how many fines are being issued for breaking COVID rules, the ages and locations of the children and what their circumstances are.
“While Victoria Police have advised they’ve stopped giving COVID fines to children under 15 years since April – we just don’t have data to show this. We want Victoria Police to make this information publicly available, as it is in NSW and other jurisdictions,” said Ms Overall.
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