Dealing with Magistrates’ Court fines

Where you have been fined in the Magistrates’ Court under the Sentencing Act, you have the following options for dealing with these fines. You should seek legal advice about these options before applying.

1 Apply to Fines Victoria for an extension of time or for a payment arrangement

Since the FR Act commenced, Fines Victoria has been responsible for collecting and managing court fines. If your matter is heard in the Magistrates’ Court and you are fined, you may be able to apply to Fines Victoria for an order allowing you to pay the fine in instalments or to have extra time to pay the fine. Note that if the Magistrates’ Court specifies an instalment order or a time to pay order, Fines Victoria must collect and manage the fine in accordance with any terms specified by the court.

Note that if you were sentenced to your court fine before 31 December 2017, you defaulted on paying the court fine and action has been taken in relation to the default (e.g. an arrest warrant has been issued by the Magistrates’ Court), you cannot apply for Fines Victoria to deal with your fine. You need to apply to the court directly for one of the options listed below.

2 Apply for a conversion of a fine to an unpaid community work order

You may be able to apply for a fine conversion order (FCO) if you are unable to pay the fine given by the court by the due date. Similarly, if the due date for a fine imposed in open court has already passed, you may be able to apply for a fine default unpaid community work order (FDUCWO). These orders allow you to pay the open court fine by doing community work. You can apply for an FCO or FDUCWO in person at the criminal inquiry counter at the Magistrates’ Court. Failing to comply with the requirements of a FCO or a FDUCWO can lead to you being brought before a magistrate in open court again, where you can be resentenced for the original offences, as well as for the offence of failing to comply with the order.

The registrar usually only grants applications if the applicant is unemployed or if there is an exceptional reason why the fine cannot be paid in instalments.

To obtain a FDO or FDUCWO, you need to be assessed for eligibility and you have to agree to certain standard conditions, including:

not committing any other offence for which the penalty is a prison sentence during the term of the order;

reporting to a designated community corrections centre within two working days after the order commences;

receiving visits from, and reporting to, a community correctional services officer as required;

notifying your supervising officer promptly if you change your address or your job;

complying with all reasonable orders given by your supervising officer;

not leaving the state without permission; and

complying with any other specific conditions set by the secretary, which may include attendance at an educational program, drug or alcohol rehabilitation or medical treatment.

In relation to a FDO or FDUCWO, your supervising officer will set your hours and assign you to a community work site after assessing your skills and work capacity. You will also be required to report to your supervising officer as directed. If you fail to do so several times without good reason you could be in breach of the order and be returned to court. Any complaints about the conditions of your order should be discussed first with your supervising officer and, if not resolved, with more senior officers.

In some cases, you may be able to apply to carry out the community work at a charity of your choice (e.g. at a rehabilitation centre where you have been volunteering for some time). If you want to do this, provide a supporting letter from someone at the charity who knows you to strengthen your application.

Under FCOs and FDUCWOs, the number of hours you will be required to work is calculated at the rate of 0.2 of a penalty unit until the penalty is paid (unless the court sets a different number of hours). There is a minimum of eight hours to be worked and a maximum of 500 hours. If you have more than one FCO or FDUCWO, you cannot serve them at the same time (i.e. concurrently), unlike with a prison sentence. You have to serve them one after the other (i.e. cumulatively).

In some special circumstances (e.g. if you fall ill), the FCO or FDUCWO can be suspended for a period, then resumed. You need to provide evidence of the circumstances that justify suspension.

3 Apply to a magistrate to vary or cancel an instalment or payment order

Under section 61 of the Sentencing Act, while an instalment order is in force, you can apply to vary or cancel the payment or instalment plan that a magistrate has ordered. Section 61 provides that a magistrate may vary or cancel an instalment order and make any other order under their original powers (which would be the sentencing options under the Sentencing Act) if they are satisfied that:

your circumstances have materially altered since the order was made and as a result, you are unable to comply with the order; or

your circumstances were wrongly stated or were not accurately presented to the court or the author of a pre-sentence report before the order was made; or

you are no longer willing to comply with the order (s 61(1) Sentencing Act).

Section 61(2) of the Sentencing Act states that if an instalment order is cancelled, the Magistrates’ Court must take into account the extent to which the offender had complied with the order when determining how to deal with the offender.

Note that if you make an application under section 61 of the Sentencing Act but fail to attend, the court can issue a warrant to arrest you (s 61(5)).

4Apply for a rehearing if you did not attend the hearing when the fine was imposed and you had a valid reason for not attending

If you did not attend the court hearing when the fine was imposed, you can apply for a rehearing under section 88 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) (“CP Act”).

This section provides that where a sentence is imposed by a Magistrates’ Court in a criminal proceeding on a person who did not appear in the proceeding, that person, or the informant on that person’s behalf, may apply to the Magistrates’ Court for an order that the charge be reheard.

5Appeal the decision in the County Court

If you have been convicted of an offence by the Magistrates’ Court in a criminal proceeding, you may appeal to the County Court against the conviction and sentence or the sentence alone (s 254 CP Act).You should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer before deciding to appeal to the County Court as it may result in a harsher sentence against you.

6Appeal the decision in the Supreme Court

You have the right to appeal a final order of a magistrate to the Supreme Court on a question of law (s 272 CP Act). You should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer before making a decision to appeal to the Supreme Court.