A comprehensive law reform package overhauling Western Australia’s outdated and economically flawed fines enforcement regime passed through both houses of Parliament last night.
One of the key changes will see imprisonment for non-payment of fines restricted so it can only be ordered by a Magistrate, and even then only as a sanction of last resort.
This was a key 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 includes the introduction of garnishee orders. This 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 excessive hardship.
The statutory concept of “hardship” has been introduced, which takes into consideration mental illness and disability, experience of family and domestic violence, homelessness, drug and alcohol problems and financial hardship.
“Work and development permits” will become an option for debtors experiencing hardship affecting their ability to pay their fine debts.
In recognition of the disproportionate impact of suspended licenses on debtors living in remote areas without public transport infrastructure, the new laws prohibit the issuing of licence suspension orders for debtors whose last known address is in a remote area.
All unserved warrants of commitment will be cancelled on the day after the legislation receives Royal Assent. While these debts will not be wiped, the fear of imprisonment for fine default for hundreds of Western Australians will be removed.
As stated by Attorney General John Quigley:
“Imprisoning people for fine default alone was a bad policy and one that was ignored by the former Barnett-Harvey Liberal Government.
“I am pleased that the McGowan Government has finally relinquished the old system.
“We expect to see a significant reduction in the number of debtors being imprisoned for fine default alone, particularly in regional and remote parts of the State.
“Under the old regime, it cost the State thousands of dollars to keep fine defaulters locked up. It simply made no economic sense.
“It is important that imprisonment remains available as a means of enforcement for individuals who thumb their noses at the system and accrue fines with no intention of paying them back, having ignored all other attempts at enforcement.
“However, there are people in our community who are experiencing genuine hardship and cannot pay a fine. They should not be further entrenched in poverty or forced into prison without any other options to pay the fine.
“The new laws will also prevent licence suspensions in remote areas and introduce a new “work and development permit” scheme to allow offenders experiencing hardship affecting their ability to pay to undertake approved activities.
“This will have a positive impact on people living in regional and remote parts of WA who don’t have access to public transport.
“As Attorney General one of my priorities is to reduce the rate of Indigenous incarceration.
“I have no doubt that with these reforms, along with the Custody Notification Service and a raft of other justice reforms that this Government has implemented or is attending to, we will see a reduction in the rate of Indigenous incarceration.”
Attorney General’s office – 6552 6800