Road authorities and their trivial pursuits

By: Sarah Marinovic*


LEGAL OPINION: What happens when police or road enforcement officers make seemingly insignificant paperwork errors

Road authorities and their trivial pursuits
It can feel like a double standard where drivers are punished for clerical errors but the authorities are excused.

 

Many drivers speak to me about their frustration at being fined for trivial mistakes in their work diaries. Simple things like forgetting to tick a box can mean hefty fines.

The frustration is amplified when the inspector issuing the ticket makes their own mistakes on the paperwork. It can feel like a double standard where drivers are punished for clerical errors but the authorities are excused.

Often I am asked whether this type of error on the paperwork is enough to get you off the hook for your fine or court appearance.

Occasionally a mistake will be enough to have the charge dismissed. For this to happen, the error usually needs be so fundamental that it raises doubt in the Magistrate’s mind about whether the offence actually happened and that the prosecution has charged the right person.

Unfortunately, this is rare. Most errors on the paperwork are obviously just a mistake. In these situations it can usually be corrected and won’t be enough to have the charge dismissed.


THE PROS AND CONS OF TAKING YOUR FINE TO COURT


The law in NSW (which is where I work) allows Magistrates to make amendments to Court Attendance Notices. This means that if you decide to fight your case based on an error on the penalty notice or charge papers, the Magistrate can usually let the prosecution fix up their mistake. Details like misspelt names, incorrect times and even typos in a vehicle’s registration can usually be corrected.

Even mistakes within the inspector’s evidence itself won’t always be enough to have the case dismissed. Usually the inspector will be given the opportunity to explain the mistake. If the Magistrate believes them then the error is usually corrected.

I am sure this information will add to the frustration that many drivers already feel, and I can understand why. It would be nice to see a bit of give and take, so where a minor error is detected that doesn’t undermine enforcement or road safety the situation might be better dealt with by education and working together to make sure the driver understands how to avoid repeating it in the future.

In the meantime, if you do find yourself in this situation, how do you decide whether to fight your case? The key is knowing which mistakes are serious enough to defend the charge. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It will always depend on the unique situation that you find yourself it.

It’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer before taking your case to court and defending it on the basis of a mistake in the paperwork. A quick discussion can save you from finding yourself in a worse situation. I always welcome drivers to contact me for a chat about whether they have a defence worth pursuing.

 

*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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