Covid-19 breaches: Infringement fines to increase dramatically

Breaching Covid-19 restrictions will now mean an increased infringement fee of up to $12,000 for individuals when imposed by a court, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Speaking at the daily Covid-19 briefing this afternoon, Ardern said fines for breaches of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act were being increased because of the view that the infringement regime did not reflect the severity of breaches.

“Our success has been really based on the fact that people by and large have been really compliant … however, there has been the odd person that has broken the rules and put others at risk. Specifically we’ve had some people break out of MIQ including in a handful of cases, with Covid, who have pose a threat to the community.”

She said there were some issues very early on, but they had reduced when the government introduced fines for those who breach the rules, such as alert levels or breaking the rules of MIQ.

“It’s Cabinet’s view that these fees don’t properly reflect the significant social and economic impacts of a single case of Covid-19 getting out into the community, and nor do they act as a sufficient incentive to play by the rules,” Ardern said.

Like with a traffic ticket, people can be issued an infringement notice for breaking the rules. If the infringement fee is not paid in full by the due date it is referred to the Ministry of Justice for enforcement, when it becomes a “fine”.

On-the-spot infringement notice fees were initially set at $300, with fines of up to $1000 when imposed by a court, but Ardern today said they would increase.

Infringement notices would increase to $4000 for individuals, and $12,000 for companies, while fines imposed by courts would increase to a maximum of $12,000 for individuals and $15,000 for companies.

People convicted for criminal offences – such as intentionally failing to comply with an order, or intentionally threatening, assaulting, or hindering an enforcement officer – may also face fines and prison.

The fine for criminal offending would increase from $4000 to $12,000 or six months imprisonment, with an additional fee of up to $15,000 introduced for companies.

Ardern said those were maximums subject to the court’s discretion, and would take effect from November 2021 subject to the passing of the Covid-19 Public Health Response amendment bill.

These fines are for people who do something specified as an infringement offence in a Covid-19 order.

She said there was a balance between making sure people understood the rules, but also the consequences of breaking those rules.

“I think the sheer magnitude of having someone with Covid-19 who breaks those rules, the impact on the community, we need to make sure that the fines really do reflect the gravity of the situation.”

The prosecutions were not made by politicians, she said.

“The prosecution decisions aren’t ultimately made by us. We need to set up the framework and the infringements that are available should those prosecutions be taken and I think actually from the general public there would probably be a bit of a view that when you are putting people at risk you need to have an infringement regime that reflects the seriousness of some of that rule breaking.

“Where they’re used and how they’re used, what fines are awarded, that sits out of our hands.”

In a statement, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said examples of infringement offences would include failure to wear a face covering in places where it is mandatory.

Criminal offences could include travelling without permission, or travelling for a purpose other than what was permitted, from an alert level 4 or 3 area to alert level 2.

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