More people opting to go to court rather than appealing to Revenue NSW
If you receive a fine in NSW that you feel was unjust, you have the choice of either requesting a review from Revenue NSW or taking the matter directly to court.
While we generally advise our clients to try to avoid court where possible, due to the time and financial impact of being involved in legal proceedings, we are finding that many people are opting to go directly to court and represent themselves, rather than seeking a review, due to the perceived unlikelihood of successfully appealing fines.
Requesting a review of a fine from Revenue NSW
Any member of the public who receives a fine can request a review from Revenue NSW if they believe there is an error, or they wish to seek leniency because there were special circumstances that contributed to the offence. You should be aware that there are strict time limitations involved in requesting a review.
If you have requested a review from Revenue NSW but then decide to commence court proceedings prior to the review's completion, Revenue NSW will halt its investigation into your matter immediately.
Why more people are going to court rather than appealing a fine
We are increasingly seeing members of the public choosing to go to court and represent themselves rather than requesting a review from the agency, as they have found in the past, or have heard by word of mouth that magistrates tend to be more sympathetic.
In court, the magistrate will often ask why the person did not seek consideration from Revenue NSW in the first instance. Usually it is because some people feel – rightly or wrongly – that it is pointless to make representations to Revenue NSW, because you will likely get knocked back anyway, and have to go to court regardless.
Others have had the experience of requesting a review of the fine and putting forward their side of the story to Revenue NSW, only to have it used against them in an effective riposte in court if they end up there. Therefore, they feel they have a better chance of a favourable outcome in court if Revenue NSW is not forewarned and forearmed in relation to their story ahead of the hearing.
As a result of the perception of the public that they are unlikely to receive a favourable outcome through a Revenue NSW review, the courts are being increasingly clogged with people appealing their fines.
Choosing to go to court can be costly
Of course, there are drawbacks to going to court, including the time involved in attending and preparing your appeal. If you choose to have legal representation, you will need to pay for this also.
You may also find that the prosecutor, such as a local government council, State Rail, Sydney Trains and so on will use legal representation, such as local lawyers and a barrister, and may seek that you cover the costs of that representation if you lose. While the magistrate may not allow this, you should nevertheless be mindful of this possibility.
Changes at Revenue NSW appear likely to impact fine reviews
The congestion being experienced by the courts will likely be exacerbated further, as described in a recent article in the Daily Telegraph which reported that Revenue NSW is planning to merge its debt collection branch with the branch that handles reviews from the public. (See Disputing a fine will be more difficult as review department merges with debt collection division by Linda Silmalis, Daily Telegraph, 8 April 2018.)
It is feared that these internal changes at the agency will likely make it harder for the ordinary citizen to appeal against their fines.
This is because the move will reportedly see the review section staff working to quotas, as do their debt collection counterparts, with promotions and perks, such as being permitted to work from home, being tied to key performance indicators that are designed around volume of fine revenue recouped.
The Public Service Association has protested this move, as it will likely result in the public being denied a fair hearing once charged.
What you should do if you receive a fine that is unjust
If you feel you have unjustly received a fine, you need to decide whether the best option for you is to seek a review directly from Revenue NSW or to represent yourself in court. While you may not be successful in having the fine completely waived, sometimes you may be able to secure a reduced fine.
Most importantly, upon receiving the fine, you need to ensure you meet Revenue NSW's time limits for lodging an appeal and document any evidence to support your case.John Gooley
Stacks Collins Thompson
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.