Spring is here, and with it comes sunshine, warmer weather and people looking to have a good time – especially given the restrictions we've all faced over the past six months or so.
But police are warning that attending a house party could now see visitors faced with a hefty fine, as new amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) (2020) give officers the power to issue infringement notices in the sum of $1000 to any person present at a residence where there are more than twenty people.
Previously, only the occupiers of a residence could be issued with a fine – but the New South Wales Health Minister has now empowered police officers to fine anyone who is present.
Police have welcomed the additional power, with Assistant Police Commissioner Tony Crandell stating:
“Coming into the warmer months, and with end-of-year festivities around the corner, it's only natural that people will have additional reasons to want to gather and get together”.
“These amendments aim to ensure that an increase in expected gatherings doesn't mean an increase in COVID-19 cases.
The 20 person rule
In a nutshell, the 20 person rule provides that:
- Up to twenty people may visit another household at any one time,
- This number includes adults as well as children,
- A member of the household is not counted in the number, and
- There are no limits on the number of people who can visit the household on any given day, provided there are no more than twenty visitors at any given time.
The rule has been put into effect pursuant to a public health order under the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW).
The Public Health Act 2010 (NSW) empowers state officials to make a range of enforceable directions and orders with a view to dealing with public health risks.
The power to deal with these risks is contained in section 7 of the Act, which provides that, where the health minister considers on reasonable grounds that a situation has arisen that is, or is likely to be, a risk to public health, such action may be taken or such directions may be given that are necessary to deal with the risk and its possible consequences.
The section makes clear that actions and orders can be made in order to:
- Reduce or remove any public health risk,
- Segregate or isolate inhabitants in order to protect public health, or
- Prevent, or conditionally permit, access to areas with a view to protecting public health.
The section requires any such orders to be published in the Gazette as soon as practicable after they are made, but also states that a failure to do so does not invalidate the orders.
Similar legislation applies across the nation.
Section 10 of the Public Health Act provides that a person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with such a direction faces a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and/or a fine of 100 penalty units, which is currently $11,000.
Any continued failure to comply is punishable by a fine of 50 penalty units, or $5,500, for each day the offence continues.
The maximum penalty for companies is 500 penalty units, or $55,000, and 250 penalty units, or $27,500 for each day the offence continues.
Police are also empowered to issue criminal infringement notices of $1000 to individuals and $5000 to businesses.
Receiving these ‘on-the-spot' fines does not result in a criminal record, and the recipient can elect to take the matter to court.
However, if the offence is ultimately proved in court, the maximum penalties outlined above come into play and a finding of guilt will lead to a criminal record, unless you (or your lawyer on your behalf) can persuade the court to grant a ‘section 10 dismissal‘ or a conditional release order without a conviction.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.