Published on Wednesday 24, March 2021
Fines advocacy on behalf of children and young people
Our Youth Outreach Lawyer project, led by IMCL lawyer Elisabeth (Libby) O'Dea, aims to support young peodple to remain engaged in education and allow them to grow up healthy, safe and to their full potential. In her role, Libby attends a number of local schools to provide legal education and assistance to students like Madison.
By integrating into school communities and reaching a large number of students, Libby has also been able to identify systemic issues in how the legal system treats children and young people.
In particular, it became clear during COVID-19 that young people were receiving a high number of COVID-19 fines, with 1560 issued in Victoria. Each fine could be as high as $1600, completely unaffordable for a child.
Recognising their inherent vulnerability, the fines system applies differently to children than it does to adults. Despite this, IMCL and other community legal centres (CLCs) found that adult systems, procedures and enforcement measures were being inappropriately applied to children.
Receiving a fine can be extremely stressful for a child, particularly a child experiencing other life difficulties like homelessness, family violence or mental illness and who does not have the capacity to pay. The unpaid fine can stay on their record and impact their employment opportunities or drag them into the criminal justice system.
Knowing this, a network of CLCs who were witnessing similar trends and advocating on behalf of young people established a youth law working group to affect systemic change.
Having worked with a number of clients placed in unfair situations because of the deficiencies in the fines system, our Youth Outreach Lawyer, Libby, has taken the lead on composing letters to Fines Victoria demanding change, including that specific guidelines should be developed for agencies like Victoria Police regarding the issuing and review of infringements to children.
As a result of this concerted advocacy by Libby and other CLCs, the Department of Justice and Regulation confirmed that it is now in the process of withdrawing the affected fines.
Libby continues to advocate for the inclusion of a provision in the new Youth Justice Act that would automatically withdraw fines that are no longer enforceable against children, as well as a child-focussed approach to the enforcement of infringements so that they can have the best start in life.
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