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Fears Victorians could cop criminal records because of ‘confusing’ COVID-19 rules

Criminal penalties have been introduced for those found failing to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing rules, but there are fears the new rules are not clear and could lead to Victorians being unjustly slapped with fines or criminal records.

With stage 3 of coronavirus restrictions in place, Victorians have been told they can only leave the house for essential shopping, work and education, for care or compassionate reasons, or to exercise. However, many services such as non-essential retailers and hairdressers remain open.

Those nabbed by police who cannot provide a good reason for being outside face fines of up to $1652 and the possibility of criminal charges.

Liberty Victoria Vice President Julia Kretzen-Barker said the rules leave Victorians open to unfair fines.

“Some of the language is confusing, some of the language involves a value judgement about what’s necessary or not,” she told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“Then there’s a risk that ordinary people have really been criminalised overnight without knowing about it.

“If you’re going out and are stopped by police and you say ‘I’m going to the hairdresser’, the police will have to decide whether that’s necessary or not, and then somebody who might think they’re doing the right thing by following the directions might cop an on-the-spot fine, and the only way to challenge that is by going to court.”

Ms Kretzen-Barker called for better education and greater clarity around COVID-19 restrictions.

“They are important but they should be accompanied by a wide education campaign … and also they’re not available in any language other than English at the moment.”

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Image: Scott Barbour/Getty Images