Now, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has “personally reviewed” and reportedly cancelled 32 out of the 1000 infringement notices handed out during the past month.
Police told the Sydney Morning Herald that the review process was ongoing, and the commissioner has not yet assessed every fine but continues to work through them.
Under COVID-19 measures, police have the power to fine individuals $1000 and businesses $5000 for breaching public health orders or ministerial directions.
A public health order passed down on March 31 directed residents in NSW to stay home unless they have a “reasonable excuse” to leave, a measure designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.
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While the Police Commissioner has repeatedly stressed the need for police discretion in issuing infringement notices, some legal professionals have warned that the issuing criteria is far too vague.
Solicitor Peter O’Brien says people are confused about what they are allowed to do and are being penalised unfairly.
“The lack of real clarity from the political masters who put in place this legislation is leading to an arbitrary application in the streets. People are genuinely and sincerely not certain of what a reasonable excuse is,” Mr O’Brien told AAP.
“I’m concerned it’s being applied to people who are already over-policed, the mentally ill, those fairly marginalised in society, most of whom can’t afford to pay those penalties,” he said.
Despite the Commissioner’s promise to personally review every penalty infringement notice, Shooters Fishers and Farmers MP Phil Donato does not believe many fines will be withdrawn.
Mr Donato worked for 22 years as a police officer, with nearly 16 of them as a prosecutor in the courts.
“Very few matters initiated by police and reviewed by police were later withdrawn by the police,” Mr Donato told AAP.
“I understand the intention of the legislation, but these new laws were not properly introduced, or fleshed out and debated in parliament, and it’s led to a lot of confusion.”
Mr Donato is unsure how Mr Fuller will keep up with the “sheer volume” of fines and personally review them all.
Under the NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement Order 2020), it’s unlawful to leave your place of residence except “to obtain food or other goods and services”, work and education that cannot be done from home, exercise, medical or caring reasons, and a limited number of other reasons.
It also bans gatherings of more than two people in public places, unless those people are members of the same household, or the gatherings are “essential for work or education”.
– with wires.