Working in the cyberz makes for many WTFs

Jan 21, 2020 - 6 minute read - Law

I fought the Law, and the Law won - Part 2

So I decided to challenge an infringement notice for speeding, what now? In my previous post I briefly described the grounds on which I intended to challenge my infringement notice, in this post I'll talk through the beginning of what turned out to be a long and drawn out process.

Firstly, I'd like to make one thing absolutely clear - you should ALWAYS challenge an infringement notice. The ecconomic viability of the entire system is predicated on the assumption that most people will just pay. Most infringement notices are for under a few hundred bucks, so as soon as the govt has to spend any time or other resources on responding to a challenge, it starts costing them more money than they will make from eventually collecting the fine. Plus if it eventually goes to court, you can probably get the amount reduced by the magistrate if you have a good driving history and plead guilty at the beginning.

The process being long and drawn out was therefore somewhat engineered on my part. While the government no doubt hopes that the dispair of dealing with their infernal bureaucracy will drive most people to give up, I actually intended to use it against them.

If you read the fine print on the back of an infringement notice, it says you can apply for a review by requesting one in writing from Fines Victoria. Helpfully, they now have an online form where you can do this. I actually thought was surprising, as the hassle of writing and posting an actual letter would probably deter a lot of people from this step. On the other hand though, an online system probably makes the reviews a lot easier to process for Fines Victoria, especially when they are just going to deny most of them.

I will tell you now that if you request a review of an offence detected by a road safety camera, all you are really doing is kicking the can down the road. As far as Fines Victoria and the Traffic Camera Office in Victoria Police are concerned, these are slam-dunk cases to win (with good reason as it turned out). They have almost no reason to withdraw the notice, so unless you look at the photo and you can clearly see that it's not actually your car (unlikely), your request is definitely going to be denied. As I said though, just by jumping through this hoop you've already increased the cost of processing the fine for the govt, and pushed the problem off your to-do list for a little while.

When the review inevitably comes back negative, the next step is request the matter be dealt with in court. You can do this online as well, but I opted to fill out the form on the back of the notice so that someone would have to bothering opening the mail and entering it into their system manually. Yes, I am that petty. A couple of weeks later, I got a letter in the mail saying the infringement notice had been withdrawn and the matter would be dealt with in court. A few weeks more went by before I recieved a chunky A4 packet inthe mail which was my court summons.

The court summons is clearly intended to be intimidating. The pack contained a stack of paper about half a centimetre thick. First page is the charge sheet and summons - it describes exactly what law you're being charged under and tells you when and where you have to go to court. In my case the charge was “being the driver of a vehicle, other than a heavy vehicle on a length of road, named Mullum Mullum Tunnel, did drive as a speed over the speed-limit applying to the driver for the length of road where there driver is driving, to which a speed-limit sign of 80 kilometeres per hour applies at approximately 600 metres prior to tunnel exit by less than 35 kilometers per hour." I don't know about you, but to me that seems like an unnecessarily complicated way to say “drive at 87kph in an 80kph zone”. You might argue the extra details are necessary to clarify the specifics of the offence, but to me it just seemed like the language used was meant to be confusing on purpose.

My court appearance was booked in for mid October, giving me about 3 months to sort out my defence. Convieniently, the court was Melbourne Magistrates, so being that I generally work in the city it wouldn't be a hassle for me to make multiple trips there. The charge sheet also listed the police officer at the TCO who was the “informant”.

After the charge sheet there is a lot of scary looking paper. Information on the criminal procedure act, what to do when you get a summons, going to court, a multi-lingual notice, and then the contents of the brief of evidence which the prosecution intends to use. Most of this info is presented as a wall-of-text, interspersed with lots of bold text and ALL CAPS, SOMETIMES BOTH. In multiple places is shouts YOU SHOULD SEEK LEGAL ADVICE and YOU SHOULD SPEAK TO A LAWYER. I'm not saying that's a bad recommendation, but the way it's presented almost makes it seem mandatory, and the cynic in me says the police are just trying to frighten people with the potential cost of a lawyer into pleading guilty so they don't have to spend any time or resources on the case themselves.

I read through everything in the pack carefully, and noted that the information on the criminal procedure act said that I could write to the informant to request more information, and that they would have to respond. It also said that if they refused to provide me with the requested information, I could make an application to court to force disclosure. That sounded like a pretty good lever to pull, so I set about crafting a list of things which seemed relevant to the matter but which would likely be a pain in the ass for the police to collate. IF they didn't want to give it to me, it sounded like the court would force them. Again, I was wrong, but not in the way I expected to be.

In my next post, I will go into more detail about road safety camera evidence, and my plan to attack it.