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Woman adding to the voting box

The NSW State election is coming up, and while many of us are deciding who to vote for, we may not have considered whether or not to bring our identification along. Interestingly, while we may be asked for ID to purchase alcohol, enter a bar or board a flight, it is not required to vote on NSW election day.

You will, however, be asked:

  • Your full name
  • Your address; and
  • Whether or not you have already voted in the present election

When you consider how many Australians are sceptical of politicians, as well as the stakes involved, it may seem strange that our voting system relies on trust when taking votes.

Is election fraud a significant problem?

Nearly 2,000 Australians actually admitted voting more than once in last year’s Federal election, and the Australian Electoral Commission investigated 19,000 instances of multiple voting. Several thousand of these turned out to be clerical errors, but a proportion was also found to be double-voting. This can be a problem, as just a few hundred votes could potentially change the outcome of a vote, especially in close seats.

Section 112 of he Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act of 1912 makes election fraud a criminal offence that could expose you to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and / or an $11,000 fine.

Five types of multiple voting have been identified in the current electoral system:

  • Enrolling to vote using false names and identification;
  • Enrolling to vote using the real names of other eligible voters who haven’t enrolled themselves;
  • People who vote using their own identity, but at multiple polling booths;
  • People who vote using the identity of other eligible voters that have agreed to that course of action; and
  • People using the identity of other eligible voters without their knowledge

Proof of Identity or Trust?

Requiring proof of identity has been suggested as a solution to the problem of election fraud.

Queensland introduced such a requirement last year, and it is the only Australian state or territory to have done so. In January 2015, the first Queensland state election was held since the change in law.

Proof of identity in Queensland includes any of the following:

  • Current drivers licence;
  • Current Australian passport;
  • Voter information letter;
  • Proof of age card;
  • Medicare card or other identification card issued by the Commonwealth or state that evidences a person’s entitlement to a financial benefit;
  • Recent account or notice issued by a local government or a public utility provider;
  • Recent account statement, current account card or credit card issued by a bank;
  • Recent document evidencing electoral enrolment;
  • Recent notice of assessment issued under the Income Tax Act; or
  • Recent phone or bank account statement

There are also special provisions for people without identification, who are still allowed to vote but must complete a declaration.

Is it unfair to require identification?

Some have claimed that requiring identification is both unfair and politically motivated, as socially disadvantaged groups are less likely to possess valid ID, including the young, the homeless and indigenous people.

It has been suggested that requiring voters to bring proof of identity is a way for certain groups to be excluded, especially those that traditionally vote for Labor. In addition, elderly and immobile people who forget their ID or are unaware of the requirement may have difficulties retrieving it.

A spokesperson for the Queensland Electoral Commission said that no one was turned away from the state election. As already mentioned, those without proof of identity were still allowed to vote, but had to fill in a declaration form instead. But some suggest that the availability of declarations undermines the whole idea behind requiring identification, and that the trust system works just as well.


Being charged with a crime can be distressing, especially if you were mistaken as to key facts and this mistake gave you a reason to believe you weren’t doing anything wrong. For a number of charges, a mistake of fact is considered a valid defence, and if you made an honest and reasonable mistake that led to you committing a crime, you can often avoid a guilty verdict and a criminal conviction.

What is mistake of fact?

Mistake of fact is also known as an honest and reasonable mistake and it means that at the time you committed an alleged offence you genuinely didn’t believe that you were doing anything wrong, and that your belief was reasonable in all of the circumstances.

An example of mistake of fact could be a drink driving charge where your drink was spiked and you weren’t aware that you were intoxicated when you were driving, but you instead thought that you were tired or ill. Under those circumstances, your criminal responsibility is removed and you cannot be found guilty.

Another example might be where you were driving whilst suspended but did not know you were suspended because the RMS sent the suspension letter to the wrong address. In that situation, however, your mistake would not be reasonable if the failure to receive the letter was because you neglected to inform the RMS of your new address. Your mistake would also be unreasonable if you suspected that you may have been suspended but did not make the appropriate enquiries.

There is an important difference between mistake of fact and mistake of law. Mistake of law means that you knew what you were doing but you weren’t aware it was illegal. Mistake of fact does not delve into whether or not you knew your act was illegal, but whether you knew of the existence of a certain fact or facts that would be required to consitute a criminal offence, eg the fact that you had alcohol in your blood system.

Mistake of fact is used as a defence against strict liability charges, which are cases that don’t require any proof of intent to commit the crime, and there are a many different circumstances under which honest and reasonable mistake can be argued.

Can mistake of fact be used in sexual assault cases?

Until 2003, the defence of mistake of fact was also applicable in cases of unlawful sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 16, as long as:

(1) the child was older than 14,

(2) had consented the the act, and

(3) the mistake was considered reasonable.

This defence was removed in 2003, and there have been a raft of changes to consent laws in sexual assault cases since then, as well as a range of restrictions upon the types of materials that can be accessed by the defence, and the nature and form of questions that the complainant can be asked in court.

In 2008, an appeal by a 17-year-old male against a conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl on the basis that he thought she was 16 was thrown out of court.

Sexual assault cases often rely on the idea of consent, and to be found guilty, the prosecution has to show that the defendant not only didn’t have consent but that they were aware they didn’t have consent, or were at least reckless as to whether or not the other person was consenting.

Despite amendments to the law, an honest and reasonable belief that the other person was consenting can lead to a successful defence in many sexual assault cases, depending on the particular circumstances of the case.

Mistake of fact can be a strong defence

Mistake of fact is a complete defence, which means that it can lead to a defendant being found not guilty. The defence can be strongest where the defendant has evidence to explain how and why they made the mistake. Once the defence has been raised, the onus will be on the prosecution to disprove it and this is often very difficult for them to do.

If you are facing criminal charges and are unsure whether mistake of fact applies in your case, speak to a criminal lawyer to find out.


For all the reasons you could land you before a Magistrate, refusing to kill cockroaches has surely got to be one of the strangest.

But this is exactly what happened to one restaurant owner after he refused to do anything about the cockroach infestation in his restaurant, due to moral objections.

Owner Khanh Hoang is a passionate animal-lover and owner of the award-winning Kingsland Vegetarian Restaurant in the ACT.

And staying true to his beliefs, he could not bring himself to kill the little critters, even though he knew that many had taken up residence in his kitchen.

Instead, photographs used in court showed both dead and live cockroaches surrounding the kitchen, including the cooking equipment.

But cockroaches were not the only problem.

Other health issues included a toilet that opened right into the kitchen, a missing hot water tap handle resulting in dishes being washed with cold water only, uncovered food stored in the dishwasher, and cooking surfaces covered in grease, dirt and faeces.

In an interview with Health Protection Services, Hoang admitted knowing about the cockroach problem and doing nothing about it. Shocked inspectors had no choice but to shut the restaurant down the very next day.

However, the restaurant opened again after just 6 days, when Hoang finally relented and got the place cleaned up.

But he still had to face the Magistrate after being charged with 12 separate breaches of the ACT Food Act, and pleading guilty to eight of them.

Hoang’s lawyer told the Magistrate that his client was a passionate vegan whose priorities had been compromised by his morals. He impressed the Magistrate with photos of the now immaculate kitchen.

But Hoang still got a $16,000 fine, with one year to pay it off.

A reformed Hoang has gone on to win more awards, and now regularly engages a pest control company and even has a food safety supervisor.

What is the law in NSW?

In NSW, regulations for the preparation and sale of food are governed by the Food Act 2013, the Food Regulation 2010 and the Food Standards Code.

Most breaches are dealt with by fines, which can be issued on the spot or after being sent to court.

The NSW Food Authority is responsible for ensuring compliance with food safety regulations within the state.

The Authority even has a name and shame register, where businesses that have breached food safety requirements are listed.

One Indian takeaway restaurant was fined almost $100,000 in Downing Centre Local Court after inspectors found cockroaches, dead rats, rat faeces and rat nests in the kitchen.

The restaurant pleaded guilty to all 13 of the charges brought against them.

It was listed on the name and shame register, along with many of Sydney’s most popular and ritziest restaurants.

Cars parked in parking lot

Finding a place to park in some parts of Sydney can be a nightmare.

Imagine you’re driving around trying to find a spot in an unfamiliar area, when you suddenly come across a car park that offers two hours free parking.

You can’t believe it – it’s too good to be true!

You happily take the spot, only to return an hour later to find a hefty fine on your windscreen for not displaying a ticket.

But the sign clearly said ‘2 hours free parking’.

You look again and, upon close inspection, notice the small print: ‘driver must display ticket’.

Now the parking company wants you to pay $66!.

You want to tell them to shove it.

Do I really have to pay the ‘fine’?

Firstly, only statutory bodies have the power to issue fines.

This includes the police, state transit officers, parking rangers and the RSPCA.

Private car parking companies do not have statutory authority to issue fines.

Some of these so-called ‘fines’ may actually look very similar to the legitimate infringement officers issued by government agencies.

The car park companies are clearly attempting to disguise the fact that they are not actually ‘fines’, but are really a demand for what are known as ‘liquidated damages.’

In most cases, it is unlikely that such demands would be legally enforceable because for a company to claim liquidated damages, it must prove that:

(a) it suffered loss or damage because of your actions, and

(b) the amount of loss is the same or more than the amount claimed.

This can be difficult to show in a court of law.

And the State Debt Recovery Office will not come chasing after you if you don’t pay.

However, you may receive nasty letters in the mail from the carpark company itself, and they may even send the case to a debt collector or threaten to take legal action.

Do they have any basis for claiming the ‘fine’?

Car park companies will normally claim that by leaving your car, you entered into a contract with them.

They will say that one of the terms of that contract was to display a ticket.

The fact that you failed to display the ticket, they would argue, meant that you breached the contract and are therefore liable to pay damages.

According to basic contract law, however, the car park company might have a tough time recovering damages (ie money) from you.

This is because it would be difficult to prove that:

(a)    You were the driver at the time, and

(b)    They incurred a loss due to your actions.

Can car park companies get my identity?

In the past, car park companies could obtain your details from the RMS, in order to send letters and even commence legal action against you.

In fact, the RMS has been forced disclose the details of more than 150,000 NSW drivers.

But changes to the law put a stop to this in 2012.

Under section 279 of the Road Transport Act NSW 2013, the RMS cannot be required to disclose information about the owner of a motor vehicle for the purpose of allowing an applicant to recover private car park fees.

This means that your private details are protected, and it would be costly for the private car company to find out your identity if the RMS won’t help them out.

However, this doesn’t mean that unscrupulous companies won’t uncover your identity through other slick ways.

Many of the so-called ‘fines’ have a section where you can write to the company and contest them.

Some people fall into the trap and send the completed ticket back, thereby giving the company their name and address.

Companies can then use this information as both an admission that you were the driver at the time and to send further notices, or even in some cases to take the case to the local court and hope that you settle before the case gets to a hearing.

It is very rare for car park companies to actually take someone all the way to a defended hearing in court. This is probably because they know that they are unlikely to succeed, and that they may even be forced to pay the person’s legal costs if they lose.

They will usually just rely on threats and harassment to get people to pay.

The ‘Australian National Car Parks’ case

One of the worst offenders was ‘Australian National Car Parks’, who manage hundreds of
car parks for Woolworths, Aldi and MacDonalds.

The company has been the subject of years of complaints for issuing unfair and inflated ‘fines’, and for intimidating and harassing those who refuse to pay the amounts demanded.

But things took a turn for the worse for the company when, in 2013, it faced  prosecution for “undue harassment.”

The company had tried to charge a woman $173 for failing to put a ticket on her car while parking in a free spot, and it continually harassed her in an attempt to make her pay up.

She had offered to pay the daily rate for the car park, but the company refused to accept.

After receiving over 4000 similar complaints, the Department of Fair Trading finally took action against two of the company directors, taking them to Parramatta court and causing them to change their business practices.

If you have been given a private parking ‘fine’, it’s best to remain calm and remember that there is a good chance to avoid paying it.

If you are harassed or intimidated, you should consider lodging a complaint to the NSW Fair Trading which has the power to take action against companies that engage in bully tactics.


Imagine that you are a judge and you have the choice of:

(a) following the law which would result in an unfair outcome, or

(b) deciding the case in a way that you think is fair but not in accordance with the law.

Which would you choose?

Judges have traditionally been very careful to emphasise that their role is not to make the law, merely to apply it.

But it is apparent that judges play a significant role in the development of law through the interpretation of both common law principles and legislative provisions.

When legislation is ambiguous or has gaps, judges must necessarily come to a decision as to how the law should be interpreted.


When a higher court makes a decision, it is generally binding upon subsequent cases.

This is called “precedent”.

It also means that members of the judiciary in the District or Local courts must follow the decisions of higher courts such as the Supreme and High courts.

Those who support “literal” approaches to the law say that judges should use pure and rational logic to arrive at the ‘right’ conclusion; they should never ‘make the law’ but strictly uncover and apply it.

Those who support “purposive” approaches argue that a judge’s task is to consider the purpose behind the provision or legal principle – which acknowledges that judges have an active role in developing the law.

Legal Rights

We certainly have a lot to be thankful for our common law, which is often a primary source for the protection of our rights.

Our Constitution contains few rights, but courts have consistently found and applied protections, particularly in criminal trials.

This includes the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty; and the fact that it is the job of the prosecution to prove your guilt – not your responsibility to prove your innocent etc.

But what should happen if judges take it too far?

Judicial Activism

Judicial activism is a term that is used disparagingly when judges are accused of taking things too far.

Judges have to decide according to the law, not what they would like the law to be.

A judgement should therefore read like a judgement on the law as applied to the facts of the case, not an opinion piece.

Judges who are accused of making decisions based on their own political or personal beliefs face the risk of being labelled as judicial activists.

According to one former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon, judges who don’t like the constraints of the judiciary should get out and join a political party.

If judges were not bound by legislation, or earlier cases, they would have far too much arbitrary power.

As we have a judiciary that is not elected, and difficult to fire, it makes sense that their power should not be unlimited.

This ensures that any judicial developments should be incremental and gradual.

However, having a judiciary that is too fettered can also be problematic.

Courts don’t normally have to take great account of the financial and political consequences of their judgments.

And while judges can declare laws invalid, they cannot suggest new laws to replace them.

The current situation means that judges are often reactive – not proactive.

Community Values

One criticism often levelled at judges is that they are “out of touch” with the community and do not decide cases in line with community values.

It might surprise many people that the job of a judge is not to be ‘in touch’ with the community – or community standards or values.

Laws are supposed to be judged according to the law, not what radio commentators think should happen.

The criterion for defining cases is what the law says, not by reference to opinions about community values and standards.

There are multiple reasons for this.

Firstly, how would we decide ‘community values’?

And who would decide them?

There are often conflicting opinions among members of the community, and divergent views should be seen as healthy in a democracy.

Secondly, deciding cases according to legislation means that they are decided according to the decisions of an elected government.

While it becomes apparent that judges often apply subjective interpretations to the law, they must do so cautiously.

And judges are certainly not free to deviate from the clear meaning of legislation simply because they do not agree with the result it may produce.


Police breathalyse driver

Under the Road Transport Act 2013 (Schedule 3, Clause 2(1)(e)), it is illegal for a police officer to conduct a breath test on a person’s own property.

If they do so, the illegally obtained evidence of the reading is liable for exclusion in court.

If police believe you were driving while drunk and don’t test you, they will have to either:

1. Press no charges against you at all, or

2. Charge you with a different offence, such as ‘driving under the influence’ which can be difficult for police to prove.

What if I have been breath tested on my own property and charged with drink driving (P.C.A.)?

There is an increasing public awareness about the fact that drink driving is considered to be a serious crime.

More than half of all drivers who are guilty of drink driving end up with a criminal record and have their licences disqualified.

But fortunately, a good traffic lawyer will often be able to get your case dropped or thrown out of court if you have been illegally breath-tested.

Since it is unlawful for police to require a person to submit to a breath test on their own property, the evidence of the blood alcohol reading will be inadmissible in court.

And without that evidence, there won’t be much of a case against you at all.

And it may even be possible to get the charges withdrawn before the matter gets to a defended hearing.

To that end, either you or your lawyer can send police what are known as ‘representations’, which are letters formally requesting that they drop the case against you.

This will save you the stress of going to a court hearing, as well as being a cheaper alternative to fighting the case in court.

What about a parking space in an apartment block?

A dedicated car space will normally be classified as your property.

And in these cases, it is not up to you to prove that the police breath tested you at your place of abode – it is the prosecution’s job to prove that it was not.

If they can’t prove this beyond reasonable doubt in court, then the breath test will have been unlawfully obtained.

In the 2002 case of DPP v Skewes, the defendant Rohan Skewes was accused of low-range drink driving.

As he was driving along his street, police flashed their lights at him, signalling him to stop.

He turned into the driveway of his apartment building and stopped his car there.

Police approached him on foot and directed him to undergo a breath test.

But police could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that they had requested the breath test outside his place of abode.

This meant that the requirement to submit to a breath analysis could not apply.

The case went all the way to the NSW Supreme court where the judge found in favour of Skewes.

He was acquitted and the DPP was ordered to pay his legal costs.

If I haven’t been drinking, why would I refuse a breath test?

It would be extremely unfair to imply that anyone who refuses to allow police to act illegally must be guilty of an offence.

Even if you are certain that your blood alcohol concentration would not be anywhere near the legal limit, you may still want to refuse a breath test in order to protect your legal rights and deter police from acting beyond the law.

Complying with police who are acting illegally only sets a precedent for them to do so again.

If you have been breathalysed on your own property, or have questions about what constitutes your property, it is best to contact an experienced traffic lawyer immediately.


Teenage boys in hoodies

Young people may be more law abiding than they were in the past, with NSW crime figures showing a decrease in arrest rates amongst this age group.

According to figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), released in December 2014, the number of young people detained by police for offences including robbery, motor vehicle theft, property crime and assault has reduced.

Drop in rates of arrest

Vehicle theft has shown a significant decrease amongst younger people. Rates of arrest fell 68.6% between 1995 and 2012 for those in the 15 to 17 age bracket, and 70.1% for those aged between 18 and 20.

Arrest rates for robbery have also declined. Arrest rates for those aged between 21 and 24 fell between 1999 and 2012. For those aged 18 to 20, the rate declined between 2005 and 2012.

Arrests for serious assault also declined among 15 to 20-year-olds between 2008 and 2012, after peaking in 2008.

According to the figures, the overall arrest rate for 15 to 17-year-olds and 18 to 20-year-olds declined between 1998 and 2004, and the biggest falls in the rates of young people being detained by police appear to be in urban areas, with rural areas less impacted.

What is the relationship between age and crime?

Figures from BOCSAR and other research organisations show that different groups of people are more prone to committing certain types of crimes at different periods in their life. Younger people would appear to be more prone to becoming involved in certain types of criminal behaviour than older people. These are mainly vehicle theft, property offences like vandalism and graffiti, and serious assaults. The figures from BOCSAR show that there is an increased risk of offending from the age of 11 or 12 until the mid to late teens. After this, the rates drop off sharply until the mid twenties when they decline more gradually.

The spread of the offending rates varies slightly for different offences, with the average peak age for assault slightly higher than for other crimes. For older people aged between 25 and 34, the figures are far more stable over the previous decade than for younger people, remaining fairly steady with a gradual decrease in recent years.

Why are young people seemingly committing fewer crimes now?

A number of reasons have been suggested for the decrease in crime rates among those in their mid teens to mid 20s.

The decrease in crime rates for property crime can potentially be linked to a lack of new people being recruited into these types of crimes, possibly due to greater education and crime prevention measures. Other possibilities that have been mentioned include changes in the patterns of drug taking, especially heroin, which often leads to property crime and theft, and global economic changes.

It has also been suggested that technological advances have led to increased security for vehicles and property, which could go some way to explaining the overall reduction for these types of crimes. More security means less opportunity, which means fewer young people are able to participate in these activities.

These possible reasons suggest that an even greater emphasis on education, especially about drugs, and an increased use of security technology could lead to even greater falls in youth crime in the future.

Detention rates also falling

As well as police figures showing a reduction in young people being arrested for certain offences, detention figures show a marked decrease in the number of children being held in detention across NSW. This is believed to be a result of policies implemented after a Royal Commission in 2008 revealed that children were being kept in detention unnecessarily and were being held on remand without charge because they weren’t able to fulfil the conditions of bail.

Currently the number of children in detention in NSW is the lowest of any state, having decreased by more than 25% in the last five years. Many of this reduction is in children who are on remand, with more support being provided to help them find stable accommodation so that they can meet their bail conditions and be released back into the community. Unfortunately, Aboriginal children are still overrepresented in the system, with much of the decrease affecting non-Aboriginal children.

It would appear that young people are committing fewer offences under criminal law than previously, although the reasons are not altogether clear. It seems most likely that a combination of factors is contributing to this decrease in young people being detained by police, and hopefully the trend will continue into the future.


Negligence usually belongs in the field of civil law, rather criminal law.

One reason for this is that most crimes require two elements: the physical act of committing the crime, as well as the mental element of intent.

And negligence is not usually enough to establish a mental element of intent.

There is a good reason for this: being convicted of a crime can have serious consequences, and a person should actually have intended to commit a wrong before they face those penalties.

The judges in one important drug importation case, He Kaw Teh v R, ruled that negligence should not ordinarily be enough to make a person liable for a crime.

For example, if someone has drugs planted on them when travelling, and nothing substantial arouses their suspicion, it would be unfair to convict them of drug importation or exportation just because the drugs are there and it would have been wise to check the bags before travelling.

If, on the other hand, the same traveller suspected that drugs were there but did not check, they could be liable on the basis that they were ‘wilfully blind’ or reckless, rather than just negligent.

There are however, some exceptions – namely ‘strict liability’ and ‘absolute liability’ offences.

Perhaps the most commonly detected strict liability offences are drink driving and negligent driving.

Negligent driving is often punished by a fine and loss of demerit points, and does not always go through the courts.

If you receive a fine in the mail and a loss of points for negligent driving, you won’t get a criminal record.

On the other hand, if you are taken to court for the same offence and found guilty, you may receive a criminal record unless you can convince the magistrate to give you a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’ – which means that you are guilty but no conviction is recorded.

Similarly, you do not have to intend to drive while over the legal limit in order to be found guilty of drink driving – the mere fact that you have a certain blood alcohol concentration is enough.

Another exception is manslaughter– a person will be liable if their negligence causes the death of another person, even if they did not intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm to that persons.

The reasoning behind this law is that taking a human life is so serious that it makes sense that a higher level care must be exercised.
There must be a high disregard for life and safety of another person in order for a person’s negligence to amount to manslaughter.
The difference between negligence and recklessness.

Negligence and recklessness, while often used interchangeably in everyday speech, have different meanings when it comes to the law.
There is no definition of recklessness, but there was a spectrum with intent at the top end and negligence at the bottom, recklessness would fit somewhere in the middle.

So while it falls short of intent, it implies a more serious level of culpability than mere negligence.

And recklessness is most certainly an important part of criminal law.

Many offences in the NSW Crimes Act 1900 list recklessness as an essential ingredient, including ‘recklessly causing grievous bodily harm’ and ‘reckless wounding’.

Recklessness for those offences requires the defendant to have recognised that their actions could cause result in harm, but went ahead anyway.

And under section 61HA (now superseded by section 61HE) of the NSW Crimes Act, being reckless about whether a person consents to sexual intercourse or not is enough for someone to be found guilty of sexual assault.

There are many other offences which have recklessness as an element (or may include recklessness as a possible element).

These include:

•    Causing a dog to inflict actual or grievous bodily harm
•    Injuring a child at time of birth
•    Destroying or damaging property
•    Obtaining money by deception
•    Dealing with an instrument of crime
•    Criminal defamation

If you have been charged with a crime that involves an element of negligence or recklessness and need more information, contact an experienced criminal lawyer who will be able to explain the charge, discuss any available defences and advise you about the best way forward.


Downing Centre Court stairs

The Downing Centre Court is undergoing some much-needed redevelopment.

While the court will still be in session as usual, the lower ground level and the popular café are both undergoing renovations which will improve facilities.

The renovations will include a new court for hearing multi-accused cases, new hearing rooms, as well as new areas for court officers and jurors.

It will also house new Civil Registry Offices, and the judge’s library will be relocated.

The redevelopment will cost $26.5 million and is expected to be completed by mid-2015.

The Downing Centre houses both Local and District courts and is the busiest court-complex in NSW.

Local courts across NSW hear hundreds of thousands of cases each year, and thousands of them are held in the Downing Centre.

In 2013, local courts across Australia determined 248,389 charges, according to the Bureau of Criminal Statistics and Research.

Many of these matters start in Downing Centre Local Court or nearby Central Local Court– even the initial stages of proceedings for serious charges like murder, sexual assault and commercial drug cases.

Those serious cases will ultimately progress to the District or Supreme court, where they will be finalised.

However, most cases are not so serious and will be concluded in the local court.

Some of the most common cases include drink driving, drug possession, common assaults and AVOs.

The Downing Centre courts and those contained in the attached John Maddison Tower deal with 60% of NSW state matters.

The Downing Centre building has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t always a courthouse.

Until 1980, it housed Mark Foys, which was one of the most upmarket department stores of it’s day.

The store even had Australia’s first escalator.

After Mark Foys closed its doors to shoppers, Grace Brothers occupied the premises briefly until 1982 when it relocated to the Pitt Street shopping precinct.

The building sat empty for three years before it was turned into the Downing Centre Courthouse Complex in 1985.

While the interior is undergoing renovations, the exterior will still retain the original Mark Foys floor tiles and façade.

And while renovations are happening, the courthouse will still be hearing cases.

The Downing Centre, located in the Sydney CBD, has seen many familiar faces over the years.

Last year we watched and waited to see what would be the outcome in Freya Newmans case, after she reportedly exposed the questionable scholarship granted to Frances Abbot, daughter of the Prime Minister.

Margaret Cunneen appeared there in proceedings relating to the allegation that she had abused her position, and in December 2014 former labour powerbroker Eddie Obeid appeared facing charges of misconduct in public office.

Man Haron Monis, the Sydney siege killer, unknown until the tragic events of last December, was no stranger to the Downing Centre.

He made several appearances there, including the time when he chained himself to the steps of as a protest against the war in Afghanistan.

He also faced the initial stages of sexual assault charges there.

Haron’s partner, accused of being involved in the murder of Haron’s ex-wife, had her bail revoked at the courthouse in December.

And in 2011, Judge Marcus Einfield was famously exposed for lying about his a speeding ticket.

Even the brother of Lara Bingle appeared at the Downing Centre a few years ago facing assault charges.

Downing Centre is sure to see more well-known personalities walk through its doors this year.

It is business as usual in the court complex, despite the ongoing renovations.


Penalty charge for car

Committing a criminal offence doesn’t always mean that you will be arrested, charged and taken to court.

It doesn’t even mean that you will necessarily get a criminal record.

In recent years, police have been given the power to be ‘judge, jury and executioner’ in an increasing number of situations by with the ability to issue Criminal Infringement Notice (CINs), also known as ‘on-the-spot fines’.

CINs mean that police spend less time on paperwork, and many would prefer to get a CIN than be dragged through the courts.

And if you pay a CIN you won’t get a criminal conviction on your record.

Of course, not all offences can be dealt with by CINs.

In NSW, the following offences can be dealt with in this way:

1. Stealing (if the value of property or amount is under $300) – $300 fine

2. Offensive language – $150 fine

3. Offensive behaviour – $200 fine

4. Unlawful entry of a vehicle/board – $250 fine

5. Obstructing traffic – $200 fine

6. Goods in custody reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtains – $350 fine

7. Continuation of intoxicated and disorderly behaviour following a move on direction – $200

The CIN must be paid within 21 days or further penalties may apply.

All CINs are recorded on a computer system – which means that repeat offenders can be identified and will likely be taken to court for subsequent offences.

If you received a CIN after having your fingerprints taken, your payment of the fine will mean that your prints will be destroyed.

It is important to keep in mind that you are not obliged to pay a CIN – you can choose to take the matter to court, just like a speeding infringement.

But if you do so and are found guilty, you risk a conviction being entered on your criminal record.

How do police decide whether or not to give a CIN?

If police have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you have committed a relevant offence, they can choose to either issue you with a CIN or take you to court by giving you a Court Attendance Notice (CAN).

It is a matter of discretion, and police are supposed to take a number of factors into account when making that decision.

Relevant factors include the public interest – for example, if it’s not worth the public expense of taking the case to court because it is so trivial the police may issue a CIN instead, especially if the court is likely to deal with it by way of a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’ anyway, which means without a conviction.

The attitude of the suspect, their age, their criminal history (or lack thereof) and even the fact that police have other duties to attend to at the time may also be taken into account.

On-the-spot fines mean that the offence is dealt with quickly and cheaply, both for police and the suspect.

But they have been criticised for giving police too much power because, in most cases, it allows them to have the final say about whether you are guilty or not.

This is because the vast majority of people won’t be willing to incur the additional expense, time and risk of fighting the case in court – especially because they risk ending up with a criminal record.

The availability of CINs also means that police are far more likely to act upon extremely trivial offences, because they don’t have to go back and complete paperwork, obtain statements or spend time at a court hearing.

CINs may also lead to the greater targeting of vulnerable groups such as the homeless, Middle Eastern youth and Indigenous people.

Whereas police may normally have to attend a court and prove the case before a Magistrate, CINs mean that it is extremely unlikely that the case will come before a court where police may be questioned, criticised and even ordered to pay the defendant’s legal costs.

What if I contest my CIN?

If you are not guilty, you can choose to contest your CIN by electing to take it to court.

After filling out the back and sending the CIN to court, you will be sent a Court Attendance Notice telling you when and where you are required to attend court.

However, don’t automatically assume that going to court is your best bet even if you think that the CIN was unfair.

Before choosing to do so, always speak to a criminal defence lawyer – they will be able to explain what is likely to occur, including the potential costs, the timeframe and the likelihood of success.

Going to court may mean taking days off work, hiring a lawyer and still possibly being found guilty in court.

And again, you may risk a criminal record.

Of course, police will know this when they are issue you with the CIN.

If you wish to speak to an experienced criminal lawyer, there are several specialist criminal law firms that will be able to give you good advice about your options, the cost and the likelihood of success.

But be careful – be sure that your lawyer is willing to give you a fixed fee before you go ahead, otherwise your legal fees may spiral out of proportion and you may regret your decision to go to court over a CIN even if you ultimately win.