Court fines: overview

This chapter explains:

  • what a fine is
  • how you get a fine
  • how you’ll know whether you have a fine
  • ways of challenging a fine
  • whether fines can be converted to other kinds of sentences, and
  • how a fine can be enforced if you don’t pay it on time.

What is a fine?

A fine is an amount of money that you can be ordered to pay as a penalty for breaking the law. You can also be ordered to pay court costs and other fees.

Types of fines

There are two ways that you can receive a fine through the court system:

  • Court-imposed fines – If you are convicted of an offence (such as drink driving) a judge may fine you as the whole or part of a sentence.
  • Unpaid infringement notices – Infringement notices are issued by the police, government agencies or local councils for offences such as parking violations, speeding, failing to display a warrant of fitness or vehicle registration, littering, or breaching dog bylaws. If you don’t pay an infringement notice by its due date, it is lodged with the courts. The courts then enforce it as if it had been imposed by a judge in the first place.

Summary Proceedings Act 1957, s 21

Note: A fee of $30.67 is added to the amount of the unpaid infringement notice when it’s lodged with the courts.

Summary Proceedings Regulations 1958, reg 15C

Who’s responsible for collecting fines?

The collection and enforcement of fines is managed by Collections Units, which are part of the Ministry of Justice. There are Collections Units in most District Courts (usually in the main population areas). Collections Unit staff are called Collections Officers or bailiffs. Where there is not a specific Collections Unit, fines are collected and enforced by the local District Court staff.

Will I receive a court-imposed fine if I can’t afford to pay?

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 14, 15, 40-44, 55-57; Summary Proceedings Act 1957, ss 81, 82

When setting a fine, a judge must take into account the defendant’s financial capacity. The judge may require the defendant to make a “declaration as to financial capacity”, giving information on their income, assets, liabilities and outgoings. A judge may require the defendant to stay at court for up to two hours to complete this declaration.

If the judge considers that the defendant can’t afford to pay a fine, then the judge may sentence the defendant to a community-based sentence – most commonly community work. A sentence of community work must be between 40 and 400 hours. A court can also allow payment in instalments.

Is a fine the same as reparation?

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 14, 32-38

No. A fine is a punishment for breaking the law and it is paid to the court.

Reparation is paid to a victim of a crime as compensation for things like damage to property or emotional harm. An offender can be sentenced to pay both a fine and reparation. If they can’t afford both, the judge must order reparation only, and may order lesser reparations or payments in instalments.

The amount of reparation ordered is usually based on information about the amount of damage, the costs to the victim and the offender’s ability to pay.

What is the “offender levy”?

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 105B, 105D

The offender levy is a fee of $50 that everyone sentenced in the District or High Court must pay. This does not include people who receive infringement notices that become court fines.

Find your local

Community Law Centre

View all law centre listings

Key | Community Law Centres | Outreach Clinics

back to top