Millions of dollars worth of fines issued to thousands of people in NSW for breaching COVID-19 restrictions are being withdrawn by the state's revenue agency.
NSW Revenue says 33,121 fines will be withdrawn following a landmark decision in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. A total of 62,138 COVID-19 related fines were issued in NSW over the duration of the pandemic.
Millions of dollars will be refunded to those that have already paid the fines.
The announcement came about an hour after Justice Dina Yehia told a NSW Supreme Court hearing in Sydney she would order refunds be given for two fines issued during last year's public health lockdowns. Justice Yehia accepted evidence given on Tuesday that the fines were not valid because they did not include a sufficiently detailed description of the offences. Katherine Richardson SC, who appeared for the plaintiffs in the case against the NSW Police Commissioner and the Commissioner of Fines Administration, called for an immediate refund of the fines' value.
"It's accepted that the two penalties don't contain a description about the substance of the offence. We were in furious agreement over that," Ms Richardson told the court. "It's only at the eleventh hour the Crown has finally accepted that these were invalid."
Revenue NSW said the decision to withdraw the fines did not mean the offences had not been committed. "The Commissioner of Fines Administration is able to independently review or withdraw penalty notices," Revenue NSW said in a statement. "In this case, he has decided to exercise his statutory power to withdraw two types of Public Health Order fines."
The decision relates to fines issued to individuals and businesses for the infringement, "fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 - COVID-19".
The case was launched by the Redfern Legal Centre on behalf of three men - Brenden Beame, Teal Els and Rohan Pank - who were each fined between $1000 and $3000.
Figures obtained by the group showed COVID-19 fines were disproportionately issued to those living in low socio-economic areas, Redfern Legal Centre acting principal solicitor Samantha Lee said last week. Mr Pank's fine was withdrawn before the case went to court, with the state agreeing to pay his legal fees.
Justice Yehia ordered the state refund $436 to Mr Beame and $826 to Mr Els and said the men could also file applications to have their legal costs paid. The remaining 29,017 COVID-19 fines would still need to be paid if they were not already resolved, Revenue NSW said.