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New Australians find themselves in difficult situations when they get fined; having to navigate a new system they know little about. As a solicitor for Legal Aid New South Wales, Paula Novotna, provides free legal advice to those in need. She has helped many new Australians through the years.
"People who either have difficulties with English or don't know the system. Or if they get the fine in the mail, they're scared or find it daunting and they don't necessarily know what to do." - Solicitor Paula Novotna, Legal Aid NSW
Often, they will choose to ignore the fine, not realising what their options are and what the consequences will be.
"If it's too much for them to pay, what I see is that people ignore the fine because it's too much money and it's too hard to deal with. The most important thing I would like people to understand is that if you get a fine, don't ignore it. Fines only increase over time and more penalties are added to the fine, the longer you ignore it."
One of Paula Novotna's clients chose not to pay a train fine because she made a simple mistake. By the time she decided to do something about it, the fine had almost tripled.
"A woman who was new to New South Wales, she was fined when she went to catch a train, she didn't have proof of her concession ticket. It was the first time she was travelling on the train, she thought she had bought the right ticket and she was fined two hundred dollars. Now she was clear she didn't want to pay it because she had made a mistake and bought the right ticket, she just didn't have the proof at the time. She saw me three years later. The fine was five hundred fifty five dollars and she had been issued with three property seizure orders and two granishee orders because she hadn't paid the fine."
If you get a fine and you're not sure what to do, you want to fight it or you would like the advice of an expert, get in touch with Legal Aid. There's a Legal Aid in each state and territory, with solicitors ready to answer your questions.
They even have interpreters so you can speak to somebody in your own language. Maged used to be one of Paula Novotna's clients. He moved from the Gaza Strip twenty five years ago. At first, he paid all of his fines, without asking questions, even when he knew he did nothing wrong.
"The first ten years I was here in Australia, I had a few traffic offences and I never ever thought of asking anybody for help, never ever. And all the traffic fines I was paying it quickly. Maybe the first day, the second day I go to the post office, pay the money and say I don't want to be involved with the cops, I don't want to be involved with the police. I was scared of them."
But things changed when a friend told him about Legal Aid. He was able to get the support he needed to dispute fines and understand the legal system better.
"My advice to all the people who come to this country, the newcomers, the new migrants, especially from our area, the Arab land, they shouldn't be scared from the police. They should give their side of the story when the police gives them an offence. They should go to Legal Aid. Legal Aid will help them, they are very, very good people. "
Legal Aid can also assist people in particular situations, like serious financial hardship or having a mental illness, to access special programs. It can mean having a payment plan or clearing their fines with activities instead of money.
Not many people know about this so that's why it's especially important to get advice says Paula Novotna.
"There are special consideration under the law for people who can show that they don't have enough money to pay the fine. And that's when it's best to get advice. It's possible to set up a payment plan, in some circumstances to make an application for a write-off and there are other possibilities. It's helpful for people to know that if they're struggling, they should get some help. "
If you're interested in learning more about Legal Aid and how it can help you, Law Week is a great opportunity. Events are organised all over Australia from the fifteenth to the twenty first of May, where you can meet legal aid staff. In New South Wales, Paula Novotna says Legal Aid staff will visit libraries.
"In New South Wales, as part of Law Week, Legal Aid is going to local libraries and giving free advice and information about the law. So you can ask your local library if a Legal Aid solicitor is coming or you can even request a solicitor to come and give advice as part of Law Week."
If you have questions or need help regarding fines, contact Legal Aid. Each Australian state has a phone number you can call to receive free advice.
For more information visit http://www.lawweek.com.au/