AN INCREASING number of Bendigo residents are being threatened with jail if they don't show up to court for unpaid fines.
A slew of self-represented defendants have told the Bendigo Magistrates Court in the past month that they have received calls from the Sherriffs Office, informing them there were warrants out for their arrest.
The end of pandemic hardship measures were widely believed by community assistance organisations to have triggered the rush of warrants now being acted upon. The fines, commonly a combination of parking fines, unpaid tolls and camera infringements, were frequently totaling more than $10,000 and dated to pre-pandemic years.
The Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass in her 2021 annual report outlined how fines of $180 could grow to a few thousand in the space of just months with Fines Victoria.
"A missing date on a driver nomination form saw a $180 traffic fine grow to $3,400, as attempts to resolve the issue via an internal review process dragged on for months," she stated.
The Ombudsman blasted Fines Victoria in 2019 for wrongly suspending driver licences or treating drivers as if they were liable for fines when they had not committed any offences.
The Bendigo Magistrates Court has repeatedly been told that the defendants either did not know they owed any money or believed they had already paid it off or were aware of it but simply did not have the means to pay.
In March, Bendigo Magistrate Russell Kelly struck out more than $61,000 of penalty infringement notices incurred by a woman with a history of mental illness. The woman told the court in March she was a former police officer who had been diagnosed as bipolar and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder that "being an adult was something (I'm) just not capable of".
Magistrate Kelly told her the fines would be fully discharged. Other defendants, in front of other Bendigo Magistrates, have been able to get installment plans from the bench or orders allowing them to negotiate with Fines Victoria for payment plans.
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Bendigo Family and Financial Support Services said a large number of people had reached out for support due to stress caused by fines.
A request for information about the increase in active warrants for outstanding fines to the Victorian Sheriff and Fines Victorian was not responded to before deadline.
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