When a person is found guilty of an offence in court the most common type of penalty they get is a fine. Generally, the court has some discretion when deciding on the amount of a fine and will weigh up many factors when making this decision.

One of the factors they consider is the seriousness of the offence. When a judicial officer is deciding how much to fine you, they must take your financial situation into account. If you believe that you won’t be able to afford to pay a fine, give the court as much information as you can about your financial position. You can give the court a report from a financial counsellor, your bank statements, payslips or Centrelink documents. This will help the court understand what you can afford.

Craig’s story

Craig’s heart skipped a beat when he saw the RBT (random breath test) that had been set up on the road ahead of him. As he was waved into the line by a police officer, he thought about the four drinks he’d had at his football team lunch. Surely that wouldn’t put him over the limit? The officer asked Craig to count to 10 into the breathalyser. The test showed that he was over the limit. When his blood alcohol level was tested he had a reading of 0.06 which placed him in the low range for a Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) offence. This was the first time Craig had ever been charged with an offence. Craig was given an on-the-spot fine and automatic three-month licence suspension.

Craig went online to the Legal Aid NSW Traffic Offences guided pathway to work out his options. He decided to elect to go to court to try and have the fine amount reduced.

When Craig went to court he explained the circumstances of the offence to the magistrate. He then explained that he was a part time cleaner and had very little income. After he had paid rent, child support and other expenses, he had little left over to pay a fine. He had copies with him of relevant documents confirming this, including payslips, rent receipts and child support statements.

The maximum penalty for a first time offence was $2,200. However, taking into consideration Craig’s capacity to pay and other relevant factors, the court imposed a $200 fine alongside the automatic three-month driving suspension. Craig applied to the Registrar of the court for a payment plan and paid the fine off over three months.

A court fine has to be paid within 28 days of the court making the order. You can apply at the registry of the court to extend the time or to enter into a payment plan. You can also apply to have payments deducted from your Centrelink payments. [* see Payment plans using Centrepay in Factsheet 5]

The registrar can require you to give them information to back up your application, especially documents about your financial situation, to help them make their decision.

The registrar’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. You can, however, make further applications to pay by instalments if the fine has not yet been referred to Revenue NSW for enforcement. If the Registrar agrees that you can pay a fine by instalments and you don’t pay an instalment by the due date, the whole fine becomes payable immediately.

For more information, see the NSW Courts and Tribunals Online Penalty Payment page on their website.

If the fine has been referred to Revenue NSW for enforcement then you can apply for a payment plan, a Work and Development Order or one of the other options set out in Part 5.

If you receive a Centrelink payment, such as a pension or Newstart Allowance, you can apply to have the repayments deducted from your fortnightly benefit through Centrepay.

To have the fine paid through Centrepay, you need to contact to the Local Court where the fine was issued and complete an application and they will refer the fine to Revenue NSW to set up the payment plan. If you don't do this within 28 days of the court order, additional costs may be added. 

If you have been given a fine in court, you have 28 days to deal with the fine using the options listed above or the fine will be referred to Revenue NSW for recovery.

Once a fine has been referred to Revenue NSW they will send you an overdue fine notice, which gives you 28 days to pay the fine plus an additional fee. If you do not pay your fine within the 28 days, Revenue NSW will take further recovery action against you. It is important to remember that every time there is recovery action, additional costs are added to your fine.

Once a fine has been referred to Revenue NSW, you should contact Revenue NSW for your options.

If you have been convicted and fined by a court, and you disagree with the decision, there are several things you can do.

If you believe you are not guilty of the offence or the penalty is too harsh, you can appeal a Local Court decision in the District Court. The District Court is one level higher than the Local Court.

You have a right to lodge a Notice of Appeal up to 28 days after the sentence date. You can also lodge an appeal up to three months from the sentence date if you get permission from the court. This is called getting leave from the court. To get leave, lodge your Notice of Appeal and include documents that explain why you couldn’t lodge it within the 28 days. There is a fee for lodging an appeal to the District Court, but it can be waived. This means you don’t have to pay it in cases of financial hardship.

You should get legal advice before applying for an annulment of a court fine.

If you were convicted or sentenced in the Local Court less than two years ago and you weren’t there when it happened, you may be able to have the conviction or sentence annulled. This means the case will go to court again and you will have the chance to have your say.

Before you apply for an annulment you should get legal advice and think carefully about whether you are likely to end up better off if you get the annulment and the case goes to court again. The risk is you might lose the case, and end up with additional court costs. To have the conviction annulled, you must prove to the court that:

  • you were not aware of the original case until it was finished, or
  • you were unable to attend court because of accident, illness, misadventure or other causes, or
  • it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Note: Annulment does not mean you do not have to pay the fine. It just means that a court will hear the case again. You may still end up having to pay the fine.

A step-by-step guide for making an annulment application can be found here.

If there is doubt about your guilt or responsibility for a penalty, you can apply for an annulment to the Minister any time after the conviction or sentence date. If the Minister agrees that there is doubt, the matter will be referred back to the Local Court for review.

If your conviction was less than two years ago the Minister may suggest you apply to the District Court first.

We suggest that you get legal advice before you file an appeal or apply for an annulment through the court or the Minister.

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