- Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Amendment Bill 2019 (WA) will be introduced into State Parliament tomorrow
- Suite of amendments to existing legislation will significantly change the way fines are enforced and recovered in WA
- Proposed reforms will address overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system and have a positive impact on the regions
A comprehensive reform package set to significantly transform Western Australia's fines enforcement regime will be introduced into State Parliament tomorrow.
One of the key changes proposed will see imprisonment for non-payment of fines restricted so as it can only be ordered by a Magistrate, and even then only as a sanction of last resort. This reform implements a recommendation from the Coronial Inquiry into the death of Ms Dhu, who was taken into custody on a warrant of commitment for unpaid fines in 2014.
The suite of amendments to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994 (WA) also include:
- the introduction of garnishee orders, which will enable the Sheriff to issue orders to a debtor's employer or bank and require them to garnish funds from salaries or bank accounts. Safeguards have been built into this process to require a "protected amount" to remain in a person's salary or bank account to avoid creating undue hardship;
- the introduction of a statutory concept of "hardship", which includes mental illness and disability, experience of family and domestic violence, homelessness, drug and alcohol problems and financial hardship;
- the introduction of "work and development permits" for debtors experiencing hardship affecting their ability to pay their fine debts;
- a prohibition on issuing licence suspension orders for debtors whose last known address is in a remote area, in recognition of the disproportionate impact of suspended licenses on debtors living in remote areas without public transport infrastructure; and
- a new "conditional release undertaking" model to allow offenders who have been arrested on a warrant to be brought before the court for a warrant of commitment inquiry to be released.
The Bill will also see the cancellation of all unserved warrants of commitment on the day after it receives Royal Assent, removing the fear of imprisonment for fine default for thousands of Western Australians.
Comments attributed to Attorney General John Quigley:
"This comprehensive reform package introduces a just and effective method for enforcing fines in Western Australia.
"For many years I have voiced the need for significant change to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act and this Bill delivers those necessary changes.
"It is unfortunately the case that it was the tragic death of the late Ms Dhu that became the catalyst for change.
"Most importantly, the Bill seeks to ensure that imprisonment for fine default is truly a last resort. Only a magistrate will be able to issue a warrant for imprisonment and only under strict circumstances.
"The amendments predominantly relate to fines enforcement, rather than the enforcement of infringement notices. This is because an unpaid infringement notice cannot land you in jail.
"This Bill draws a careful distinction between those who can pay their fines but refuse to do so, and the many experiencing hardship who cannot pay and should not face enforcement measures that further entrench them in poverty.
"The amendments will require a decision maker to consider whether the person is experiencing hardship such as financial hardship, homelessness and alcohol or other drug use problems.
"The amendments will also seek to prevent licence suspensions in remote areas and introduce a new "work and development permit" scheme to allow offenders suffering hardship affecting their ability to pay to undertake approved activities.
"It is important that imprisonment remains available as a means of enforcement for those who can afford to pay their fines but thumb their noses at the system and accrue fines with no intention of paying them back, having ignored all other attempts at enforcement.
"In largely doing away with imprisonment for unpaid fines and introducing garnishee orders, the Government has introduced reforms that make economic sense - facilitating the recovery of these fine debts rather than paying to keep fine defaulters locked up.
"I expect the amendments to have a positive impact on the regions, given the disproportionate impact that existing enforcement measures have on fine defaulters in regional and remote areas.
"The restriction on issuing licence suspension orders for offenders in remote areas, the introduction of statutory principles regarding hardship and the new work and development permit provisions are all expected to reduce the number of debtors being imprisoned for fine default alone, particularly in regional and remote parts of the State."
Minister's office - 6552 6800