Pros and cons of taking your fine to court

By: Sarah Marinovic*, Photography by: Greg Bush


LEGAL OPINION: Fronting up in court to fight a fine and avoid losing demerit points can be a risky proposition

Pros and cons of taking your fine to court
Being pulled over by the authorities can often be an unpleasant experience.

 

Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of receiving a fine. It’s the main method of enforcement for most traffic and heavy vehicle laws.

The government likes penalty notices because they provide an efficient way of enforcing the law. But efficiency can’t be the only measure of how well a justice system is operating.

Above all the system has to be fair. Part of that is making sure people have the opportunity to defend themselves and tell their side of the story.

This is why the right to contest your penalty notice is so important. When you receive a fine you have a choice. You can either pay it or you can elect to take it to court.

Deciding whether to take your fine to court isn’t always an easy decision. What I’ve learnt over the years is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. The right choice really depends on your individual situation.

So how do you know whether you’re making the right decision? Over the years I’ve found that there are five main factors for people to consider when deciding to go to court. Usually people who carefully consider these factors leave court comfortable with the decision they made.

What do you want to achieve?

It’s important to be clear about why you want to dispute your case. For example, did you not commit the alleged offence? Is the fine too high? Will the demerit points put you over your limit?

Being clear on this point puts you in the best position to weigh up the pros and cons. For example, you might be willing to take more risk if you might otherwise lose your licence. 

Can the court make the order I want?

Magistrates have limited powers. There are some things they cannot do even if they’d like to. For example in some jurisdictions they can’t waive demerit points.

It’s important to check that the court can do what you want before taking your case to court. Otherwise you might find yourself ‘winning’ the case but still being unhappy with the result.

Will I regret not having my day in court?

Just because it’s easier to pay the fine doesn’t mean you should. Once the infringement is on your record you are usually stuck with it. While it might not cause you any trouble right now, I have met many clients who regret not fighting when they had the chance after unexpectedly getting another ticket that puts them over their demerit point limit. Or when they get treated as a ‘repeat offender’ because of a fine they should have contested.

Sometimes, it’s best to protect your good driving record while you have a strong case.

Are the risks too high?

Going to court is not risk free. Magistrates can increase fines, disqualify your licence and impose criminal convictions.

Most of the time these worst case scenarios don’t happen, but it’s important to know what could happen in your particular circumstances and weigh up whether that’s a risk you’re willing to take.

Is there a better option?

Sometimes there are better and safer options to achieve your goal. A common example of this is when drivers have been treated rudely by the investigating officer. Often the first instinct is to take the case to court. Unfortunately rudeness doesn’t usually change the outcome of the case and the court doesn’t have any tools to sanction the inspector. You will have a better chance of having the officer sanctioned by complaining to their supervisors.

A similar situation is where you disagree with the law. Magistrates are required to apply the law as it is written. You’re much more likely to get the law reformed by contacting the media and lobbying parliament.

If you need help deciding whether it’s a good idea to take your case to court you’re always welcome to contact me. My team are happy to have an obligation-free chat to help people make this important decision.

 

*Sarah Marinovic is a principal solicitor at Ainsley Law – a firm dedicated to traffic and heavy vehicle law. She has focused on this expertise for over a decade, having started her career prosecuting for the RMS, and then using that experience as a defence lawyer helping professional drivers and truck owners. For more information email Sarah at sarah@ainsleylaw.com.au or phone 0416 224 601

 

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