Page 1661 - Week 05 - Thursday, 11 May 2006

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I think that there is scope for something like that to be extended to the more minor criminal matters, because it is a real incentive to the average person to pay their fines. In the ACT—I am sure that the practice now is no different from what it was when I practised, which I have not done for 10 years—courts will always give you reasonable time to pay and they will take your circumstances into account. I have had cases where clients of mine have had up to two years to pay, say, $1,900 at something like $100 a month. The courts will take into account your capacity to pay and they will be most reasonable there.

You really have to be pretty slack most of the time to be in default. Even if you do look like defaulting, you can go to court and get a new order to enable you to pay your fine. The courts basically will bend over backwards to ensure that your circumstances are taken into account. So it is invariably the fine defaulter who is at fault here, not the system. Fines are an important part of sentencing and perhaps we do not use them enough at times. They can certainly bring home to someone more than, say, a recognisance to be of good behaviour that their activity was wrong, that it was antisocial, that society does not approve of it and that they are actually being punished.

Defendants I have known often did not think a bond was anything but a slap over the wrist and have not quite appreciated what it means. If they had to pay $500, the old hip pocket nerve would come into it and that would mean something. For offenders in matters where a fine is appropriate—any offenders, really, but especially the younger ones—it shows that they had engaged in an activity for which they will actually suffer some penalty and they had better watch themselves in future. It is often very good training to ensure that people do not reoffend and it is a very effective tool in terms of sentencing.

Community service is at least one level above a fine. It is, as the attorney quite rightly says, a very real alternative to imprisonment. A court which is teetering on sending someone to jail might think that it will give them such a chance as there is good reason for them to stay in the community—for example, they might have family responsibilities—and their crime is not that heinous that they should do time in jail but they should do so many hours of community service. If they defaulted on that, one would expect perhaps that they go to jail. That may not necessarily be the case in this place, but that is the general theory. It is a very serious penalty in its own right.

There may well be scope for it here, but ours is a small jurisdiction, as the attorney says, and I note the cost involved in terms of community service. I would hate to see a flood of people come into community service as fine defaulters because that may be more than our system could bear. You do have to take into account that the ACT will give people longer to pay a fine than jurisdictions anywhere else. In New South Wales, if the fine is $500, you have 28 days to pay and it is too bad if you cannot pay it, stuff you! Having represented people there, I know that normally they just make a bigger effort to pay. But here there is less reason for people not to pay fines. Basically, it really is socially irresponsible in most instances.

Dr Foskey: Except if you have not got any money.

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