Huge volume of unpaid fines prompts enforcement rethink

A report by the Sentencing Advisory Council on the enforcement of fines and infringement notices says Victoria is losing over $400 million in unpaid fines per year. It calls for a distinction to be drawn between those who can’t afford to pay and those who simply refuse, and recommends enforcement methods that target refusers, such as flagging their passports: “Restrictions on international travel are an appropriate means of targeting persons who are likely to have the capacity to pay a court fine or infringement penalty (in light of the cost of international travel) but instead wilfully default.” On the other hand, it says those with less capacity to pay should have their fines reduced. The report identifies “high volume tolling offenders” as a specific problem—illustrated yesterday when a warrant was issued by the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court for the arrest of a woman who owes nearly $300,000 in infringement penalties for more than 1000 unpaid tolls.

When can a killer inherit from the victim?

The Victorian Law Reform Commission has launched its inquiry into the “forfeiture rule”, following a reference from the Attorney-General. When a person unlawfully causes another person’s death, this common law principle says they forfeit any inheritance, insurance policy, or payment that they would otherwise have received. The VLRC explains the concern about the rule: “In Victoria, the rule applies equally and inflexibly in all circumstances but the outcome can be harsh. Both a premeditated murder carried out with the intention of obtaining a financial benefit, and a suicide pact in which one of the parties survived, would attract the application of the rule.” In addition, because the rule applies in civil proceedings, “The rule may be applied to a person who has been acquitted, or has not been prosecuted at all, if it is proved to the court, on the balance of probabilities, that the person unlawfully killed the deceased.” VLRC has set up a forfeiture quiz to highlight problematic scenarios.

White-collar penalties low, says ASIC

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the body responsible for regulating companies, says the penalties for corporate wrongdoing are too low. For example, “[t]he maximum fine that may be imposed may be substantially lower than the financial benefit obtained as a result of the wrongdoing.” One proposal in the ASIC report is to set the maximum penalty for profitable offences at “three times the value of the benefits obtained that are reasonably attributable to the contravention”.

Abortion clinic sues to remove anti-choice protesters

Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic is suing the city council for failing to remove protesters from outside its premises. Maurice Blackburn solicitor Lizzie O’Shea explained she would be “asking the court to make an order in mandamus, or perform a duty imposed by law”. Specifically, “[u]nder section 60 [of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008], a council has a duty to remedy as far as is reasonably possible all nuisances existing in its municipal district. The definition of nuisance includes activities that are dangerous to health.” The applicants will argue that the health of patients and staff is harmed by harrassment by the anti-choice protesters, who have been picketing the site for a decade.

Evil lies in the grapevine effect

In what is believed to be the first Twitter defamation trial in Australia, “[a] NSW school teacher has made legal history after a former student was ordered to pay $105,000 for defaming her on Twitter and Facebook.” In determining the appropriate damages, Judge Elkaim SC of the NSW District Court (the equivalent of Victoria’s County Court) took into account that “when defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread. … Their evil lies in the grapevine effect that stems from the use of this type of communication.”