Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Amendment Bill 2019 | Reforms to stop jailing people in WA for unpaid fines

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Image by Shutterstock.

A new bill to stop imprisoning people who have unpaid fines was introduced to state parliament this week.

The Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Amendment Bill 2019 will change the way fines are enforced and recovered in WA.

One of the changes would see imprisonment for unpaid fines restricted so it could only be ordered by a Magistrate as a last resort.

This reform was a recommendation from the Coronial Inquiry into the death of Ms Dhu, who died in custody, on a warrant for unpaid fines in 2014.

In the last financial year, 433 people were jailed in WA because of an unpaid fines, 112 of those imprisoned were women, 210 were unemployed, 156 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and 126 were in regional WA.

In the last four years, 32 people have been imprisoned in Busselton for unpaid fines and 109 in Bunbury.

Amendments to the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act 1994(WA) include introducing garnishee orders to enable the Sheriff to issue orders to a debtor's employer or bank and require them to garnish funds from salaries or bank accounts.

The concept of hardship will be introduced, along with work and development permits for debtors experiencing hardship affecting their ability to pay a fine.

Issuing licence suspension orders for debtors in remote areas will be stopped under the reforms.

Attorney General John Quigley said the bill drew a careful distinction between those who could pay their fines but refused to do so, and those experiencing hardship.

Mr Quiqley said those who could not pay should not face enforcement measures that further entrenched them in poverty.

The bill was welcomed by Waratah which provides support services in the region to women who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence.

Senior counsellor Louise Fischer said it was an important acknowledgement that imprisoning people who experienced hardship should not be punished for their inability to pay.

"Most importantly, our First Nation's peoples experience over-representation in the legal system including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who previously have been reported to be as high as one in three entering the prison system for fine defaults," she said.

"This translates to 64 per cent of women imprisoned in WA, for fine defaults.

"We are locking up mothers of children for not paying fines for minor infractions that, as determined by the legislature, do not warrant a term of imprisonment."

Waratah community and education officer Di Tate said there was a clear distinction between a person who was unable to pay fines because of financial hardship, and a person who was capable of paying fines thumbed their nose at the law.

Ms Tate said women experiencing financial hardship often could not work, did not have their own bank account, were denied household funds, had no transport or had no support network.

"This legislation will help women living with financial hardship by taking away the fear of jail, being separated from their children, the stigma attached to breaking the law over a minor infringement and dealing with having a police record," she said.

"Our organisation supports clients who experienced financial hardship and the inability to pay fines adds another level of stress to the trauma they are already dealing with."

This story New reforms introduced in WA to stop jailing people for unpaid fines first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.