Last updated 8 January 2019
A court may impose a fine when it finds a person guilty of an offence, whether or not it records a conviction (s 44 Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) (Penalties and Sentences Act)). It may impose a fine in addition to, or instead of, any other sentence (e.g. in addition to imprisonment). The legislation under which the offender is convicted will usually specify the maximum fine to which they are liable.
Fines are expressed in penalty units. The value of a penalty unit can change, but currently one penalty unit is equivalent to $130.55 (reg 3 Penalties and Sentences Regulation 2015 (Qld)).
In determining the amount of the fine and how it is paid, the court must, as far as practicable, consider the financial circumstances of the offender and the burden that payment of the fine will impose on the offender (s 48 Penalties and Sentences Act). In considering the offender’s financial circumstances, the court must take into account any existing order or proposed order for restitution, compensation or the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. If the court considers it would be appropriate to impose a fine and to make a restitution or compensation order, but it is obvious that the offender cannot pay both, then the court must place more importance on ordering restitution or compensation, although it may still impose a fine. In fixing the amount of the fine, the court may also consider any loss or damage to a person’s property caused by the offence and the value of any benefit received by the offender.
The court will specify a period within which the fine must be paid (by instalments if necessary). It will also stipulate a term of imprisonment that the offender will face if they default in payment of the fine.
Before any order is made, the court must inform the offender of their right to verbally apply for a fine option order (s 53 Penalties and Sentences Act).
Fines are enforced under the State Penalties Enforcement Act 1999 (Qld).
Fine option orders
A fine option order allows a convicted person to perform unpaid community service instead of paying the fine imposed on conviction for an offence. A fine option order may be applied for immediately after a fine is imposed or within a fixed time set for payment of the fine (ss 53–55 Penalties and Sentences Act).
A court may only make a fine option order if the court is satisfied that:
- the offender is unable to pay the fine in accordance with the original order
- the offender’s family would suffer economic hardship
- the offender is a suitable person to perform community service under a fine option order (s 57 Penalties and Sentences Act).
The number of community service hours required to be performed must satisfy the justice of the case. The number of hours ordered must not be more than five hours for each penalty unit or part of a penalty unit that was imposed as a fine under the original order (s 69 Penalties and Sentences Act).
The number of community service hours required to be performed under a fine option order can be reduced in whole or in part if the offender subsequently pays the fine or part of the fine that was originally imposed (s 70 Penalties and Sentences Act). The offender’s program of community service to be undertaken to satisfy the fine option order will be supervised by a corrective services officer.
A fine option order is subject to similar requirements that are imposed for a community service order. If any requirement is not met, the court may extend the period in which community service is to be performed. The order may also be revoked for non-compliance, when the offender will immediately be liable to serve the period of imprisonment that was specified as the default period in the original fine order (s 74 Penalties and Sentences Act). This period of imprisonment will be reduced if the fine has been partly paid, or the offender has performed part of the community service that was required to be performed (s 82 Penalties and Sentences Act).
Review of fine option orders
A fine option order may be revoked if the court is satisfied that:
- the offender is not able to comply with the order because the offender’s circumstances have materially altered
- the offender is no longer willing to comply with the order
- the circumstances of the offender were not accurately presented to the court when the order was originally made (s 79 Penalties and Sentences Act).
In such a case, the court may confirm or vary the original fine order, or it may revoke the original order and resentence the offender. In determining how to resentence the offender, the court must take into account the extent to which the offender had complied with the fine option order (s 80 Penalties and Sentences Act).
If a person fails to pay a fine by the due date, enforcement action may be taken. A warrant can be issued for a person’s arrest and imprisonment if they do not elect to pay the fine, pay by instalments through the State Penalties Enforcement Register (SPER), contest the fine or apply to the court for a fine option order. There are many steps SPER can take to try and recover the fine amount, including ordering a bank to transfer funds from an offender’s account to SPER or ordering their employer to deduct money from a person’s pay each month and transfer it to SPER. Once a warrant has been served, the only option to avoid imprisonment is to pay the full outstanding amount.