Contesting your fine in court
THE majority of heavy vehicle offences are dealt with by a fine through an infringement notice. The recipient of such a fine usually has the option of contesting it in court.
Going to court can be a good option in the right case. However, not every person who goes to court will walk away with a better outcome. They could even end up with a worse result than had they paid the fine.
Unfortunately the risks of electing to take a matter to court are usually not well explained. The information included with the infringement notice is usually limited to an explanation about the administrative process for electing to take a matter to court.
It is vital that people know all of the potential outcomes when deciding whether to court elect their infringement notice. Having this information allows them to decide whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
The main risks of contesting a fine in court are:
MOST people are surprised to hear that the court can impose a higher fine than the infringement notice amount.
The law prescribes a maximum penalty for each offence. The fine imposed under an infringement notice is usually considerably lower than the maximum penalty.
Once a person takes their matter to court, the Magistrate is not bound by the infringement notice amount. The fine will often be increased if they decide the offence is more serious than average or the person's traffic record isn't good.
PAYING a fine under an infringement notice does not usually cause the person to have a criminal record.
However, taking a matter to court can lead to a conviction being recorded. This means that the person has a criminal record.
While the offence itself may not be serious, having a criminal record can have significant consequences for travel and employment.
In some situations the court can choose not to record a conviction. It is important for people to know whether it is likely that a court would do this for them before deciding to contest their matter.
A PERSON who contests an infringement notice may be required to pay the prosecutor's legal costs. This usually happens where the person loses their hearing after pleading "not guilty", but can also happen even where the person pleads guilty.
Sometimes these legal costs can be thousands of dollars. It is important for people to be aware of this, because even if they choose not to have their own lawyer, if things go badly, they may find themselves paying for the other side's lawyer.
Is it worth going to court?
IN MANY cases, the answer is "yes" despite the risks.
By raising awareness of the risks, I don't mean to discourage people from electing to go to court.
Going to court can be a fantastic decision in the right case.
The problem is that when people don't know the risks they can find themselves being swept through the court system without the information they require to make good decisions.
The best thing to do when deciding whether to contest a fine is to seek help from the right sources.
Many community legal centres and Legal Aid branches have published information about taking a fine to court.
For a more personalised assessment of your case, the team of experience traffic lawyers at Armstrong Legal can assist you.