Please note that the future of the Special Circumstances List is currently unknown. Advocacy is currently under way to retain the Special Circumstances List in 2019 and beyond. However at the moment, listing practices in relation special circumstances applications are not consistent. Please speak with Homeless Law staff if you are uncertain about where your client’s fines have been listed.
In the absence of a Special Circumstances list, individual matters are likely to be listed at venue closest to where the offence was committed and a successful enforcement review application may now result in multiple court date scattered across the state. If this occurs see our Infringements Guide for Pro Bono Lawyers (below), and Consolidating Matters.
Where your client’s case is referred to court under 38(1)(a)(iii) of Fines Reform Act 2014 (Vic) (often on the basis of ‘special circumstances’), your client’s matter(s) may be listed together at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a first mention in the Special Circumstances List.
The Special Circumstances List (a forum just for special circumstances applications that sits on Thursdays at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court) aims to identify and address the issues underlying the ‘offending behaviours’ of people with special circumstances.
It should be explained to your client at the outset of their matter that making a special circumstances application entails making a guilty plea i.e. accepting that the offence occurred and explaining the circumstances that caused the offending.
It is important that your client attend the Special Circumstances List hearing as the Magistrate is likely to want to speak directly with your client. It may also be helpful if a case worker or social worker is present at the hearing, as it informs the court that the client is being supported and is taking steps to address the underlying causes of the offending behaviour.
Homeless Law’s general policy is not to appear for clients who cannot appear at the hearings. If your client is unable to appear, you should obtain your client’s instructions to apply for an adjournment. Sometimes in the Special Circumstances List, the court will adjourn the hearing in the client’s absence (although this is not something that we can advise with certainty). If the hearing does go ahead and your client does not appear, the court is more likely to impose a harsher sentence. Your client will be able to apply for a re-hearing if they missed the first hearing.
You should ensure that you meet your client beforehand and prepare them for what to expect at the hearing and what the Magistrate might ask your client. Before the hearing, you will need to go to the court where the matter is listed to be heard (usually court 17 on level 5, but you should check on the day) and announce your “appearance” in person with the associate (usually seated at the front of the court on the right hand side). This means telling the associate your name before the Magistrate or judicial registrar has entered the court room so that the Magistrate (or judicial registrar) will then know you and your client are there ready for your matter to be heard.
You can also approach the prosecutor appearing for the relevant enforcement agency (e.g. Victoria Police, Department of Transport or a local council). You can introduce yourself and say you’ll be appearing for your client. You should provide any updated supporting letters you have (which you will later hand up to the Court). You can also try to negotiate with the prosecutor by asking whether they are willing to withdraw any / all of the matters.
When the associate calls your matter, proceed to the bar table on the left hand side and bring your client to sit just behind you. Announce that you are appearing on behalf of your client. The Magistrate (or judicial registrar) will then ask the enforcement agency prosecutor for an outline of the alleged offences, and will sometimes expressly ask whether your client pleads guilty or not guilty. In order to be eligible for special circumstances, you must plead guilty to the offence.
While the Court will always have a list of the infringements being dealt with, it is important that you have a clear idea of the court case number(s); the number of infringements; their dates and the underlying offences, so that you can answer any questions the Court has or correct any inaccuracies in the lists of the Court or the prosecutor.
The Court may also ask what circumstances you are relying on, so you should be able to state this in a concise way (e.g. homelessness, substance use, mental health issues or family violence).
You will then need to make sentencing submissions to the Magistrate (or judicial registrar).
In the Special Circumstances List you will not always be required to make detailed oral submissions, but you must be sufficiently prepared so that you can identify the existence of special circumstances, the nexus between the special circumstances and the relevant offences, present compelling evidence and arguments on why a lenient sentence is appropriate (ideally unconditional dismissal or an adjourned undertaking under ss 75 and 76 of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) (SA) and answer any questions that the Magistrate or judicial registrar has.
Sample submissions that can be used as a guide when appearing in the Special Circumstances List are at the very bottom of this page.
Your submissions in the Special Circumstances List should cover the following:
At the Special Circumstances List, the client will be sentenced under the SA, usually by a Judicial Registrar.
The best sentencing outcome is that the matter is dismissed unconditionally (s 76 of the SA).
Another common sentencing outcome for Homeless Law’s clients is for the client to agree to an adjourned undertaking under s 75 of the SA. An adjourned undertaking will always be on the basis that the client be of good behaviour (i.e. not commit other or similar offences during the adjournment) and will be for a period of time prescribed by the Court. The court will also often impose other conditions such as the client engage with treatment and provide evidence to the court. The court will usually specify whether the client must attend court at the adjournment. Failure to attend court at the adjourned hearing if specified by the court will breach the undertaking.
In determining the client’s sentence the Court will often ask about the client’s engagement with treatment or supports. The Court will also often ask about reoffending, so it is important that you have obtained your client’s instructions about this prior to the hearing. It is helpful if you can identify that the offending has stopped or, if it has not, identify that the client is taking steps to address the underlying causes of the offending (for example by engaging with supports to help manage their mental illness or substance dependence or with a housing worker who is assisting them to find stable accommodation).
Sometimes the Court will want to speak with your client directly about these issues, so make sure your client is prepared for this and knows to stand when addressing the Magistrate or judicial registrar.
In addition to the more common sentences referred to above, some of the Court’s other sentencing options under the Sentencing Act include (in increasing order of severity):
If the outcome of your client’s special circumstances hearing is that the Court, with your client’s consent, sentences your client to complete an adjourned undertaking (with or without conviction under ss 72 or 75 of the SA) it is important that you advise the client of the implications of this sentence.
The undertaking will require the client to ‘be of good behaviour’ and will nearly always contain another condition, for example: ‘to continue to attend and participate in alcohol and psychological counselling as directed and to provide the court with written confirmation of this at the adjourned hearing’.
After the hearing when the undertaking is made, you should advise the client about their obligations under the undertaking.
There are two potential consequences of breaching the undertaking:
In relation to the underlying offences that had been adjourned subject to the undertaking, if the Court finds the client guilty of contravening the undertaking, the Court will:
In making this determination, the Magistrate must take into account the extent to which your client has complied with the order.
In addition, it is a separate offence to contravene an order made under ss 72 and 75 of the SA without ‘a reasonable excuse’ (s 83AC of the SA). A proceeding for an offence of contravening an undertaking is commenced by filing a charge-sheet in the Magistrates’ Court. The offence is punishable by a fine of up to 10 penalty units.
It is important to advise your client of the risks of breaching the undertaking so that they appreciate the importance of trying to avoid reoffending and of engaging with the support or treatment ordered by the Court. In practice however, it is extremely rare for clients to be prosecuted for the separate offence of breaching the court ordered undertaking, particularly in the Special Circumstances List of the Magistrates ‘Court. It is common, however, for clients to be required to re-appear before the Court after reoffending (and therefore arguably failing to be of good behaviour) or failing to engage with the prescribed support. In these cases, you will need to make submissions about why the non-compliance occurred and what the appropriate sentencing option is (for example, subject to the client’s instructions, varying the underlying order or extending the undertaking to allow the client another chance to comply).
Note that if your client had traffic offences and pleaded guilty to these offences, even if the Magistrate dismisses the fines, demerit point attached to the offences will still accrue.
Even when a client’s infringements matters are dismissed by the Court, where the infringements are for driving on CityLink or Eastlink without a permit, the client will still be liable for an administrative fee of $40 (as at 1 July 2017) in respect of each charge found proven (s 76(1) of the Melbourne City Link Act 1995 (Vic), s 206B(1) of the Eastlink Project Act 2004 (Vic), r 19 of Melbourne City Link Regulations 2009 (Vic) and r 18 of Eastlink Project Regulations 2016 (Vic)).
The Court is required to order that the person pay the relevant corporation this prescribed fee if the charge is found proven, whether or not a conviction is recorded or infringements dismissed. An amount required to be paid under such an order is taken to be a ‘judgment debt’ due by the person to CityLink and ConnectEast (s 76(2) of the Melbourne City Link Act 1995 (Vic), s 206B(2) of the Eastlink Project Act 2004 (Vic).
This means that City Link could utilise the enforcement mechanisms contained in the Magistrates’ Court General Civil Procedure Rules 2010 (Vic) and the Judgement Debt Recovery Act 1984 (Vic), though in practice this rarely occurs.
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