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Almost 30,000 Covid-era fines could be 'invalid' after court ruling

The ruling comes after the NSW Supreme Court found 33,000 fines issued during the pandemic were also invalid.

Legal experts are asserting that almost 30,000 fines issued during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic could be deemed invalid in one state after a court ruling.

The NSW Supreme Court found that a $3,000 fine handed down to Angelika Kosciolek for leaving Greater Sydney without a permit in 2021 was unlawful. Kosciolek was homeless at the time and made plans to leave Sydney to travel to South Australia after being offered somewhere to live, when she was slapped with the infringement.

Justice Desmond Fagan said fines issued during Covid-19 must pass the "bare minimum test", which was established in a 2022 Supreme Court ruling, meaning that for it to be valid, a penalty notice must clearly state the relevant Act and provision related to the offence.

A woman with a mask during Sydney lockdown and a penalty notice.
Almost 30,000 Covid-era fines could be deemed invalid after a bombshell court ruling, legal experts say. Source: Getty / Revenue NSW

Covid-19 fine deemed invalid after failing 'bare minimum' test

Kosciolek’s fine was found to have not passed the test as it did not state the Act and it’s believed most fines don't indicate precisely which act had been broken, according to the Redfern Legal Centre.

"If a Covid fine fails to state the specific offence, the fine is invalid," Samantha Lee, senior solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre said in a statement Thursday.

The judgment could now mean that some 29,000 other Covid-19-era fines, many of which have already been fully or partly paid, are unlawful, according to the centre.

"RLC considers that the judgment supports the conclusion that the remaining Covid fines are invalid and urges Revenue NSW to withdraw and repay the 29,000 remaining fines," it said.

Revenue NSW 'won't withdraw' fines in bulk

However despite the recent judgements, Commissioner of Fines Administration Scott Johnston confirmed on Thursday at a Budget Estimates that Revenue NSW wouldn't be withdrawing any the remaining fines. Instead, Revenue NSW will continue to "review and treat every matter on a case-by-case basis," he said.

A couple in masks during Sydney's lockdown.
Legal experts say that due to one fine being overturned for failing to pass the 'bare minimum' test, 29,000 others may be invalid. Source: Getty

Lee implored Johnston to "come to his senses". "The commissioner is refusing to honour a supreme court Judgement and do the right thing and give people back their money and withdraw these fines that don’t meet the legal requirements," she told news.com.au.

"We’re giving the commissioner time to come to his senses and make the right decision to withdraw these fines. If not, then watch this space."

Kosciolek earlier had her fine refunded after it was withdrawn in 2023 during the court case.

Over 30,000 fines axed in 2022

It comes after more than 33,000 Covid fines worth millions of dollars were axed after landmark NSW Supreme Court ruling in 2022. The court found at the time that details of the offences were insufficient.

Revenue NSW scrapped 33,121 fines following the decision, meaning roughly half of the 62,138 Covid-related fines issued during the pandemic were invalid. Revenue NSW said the decision to withdraw the fines did not mean the offences had not been committed.

"The Commissioner of Fines Administration is able to independently review or withdraw penalty notices," it said at the time.

RLC continues to offer free legal advice to those who have paid, or part paid, Covid fines, the centre says.

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