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Aboriginal criminals get millions of dollars in fines wiped by taxpayer-funded court officers

Terence Kelly Aboriginal crime

Aboriginal criminals in Western Australia are getting massive fines cleared thanks to taxpayer-funded court employees who specialise in assisting indigenous people, internal documents show.

A single Senior Aboriginal Liaison Officer (SALO) at the Perth Magistrates Court, Anthea Mitchell, helped Indigenous people get out of $1,016,073.86 worth of fines between March and December 2023 alone, and aims to raise that amount to $1.5 million this year, according to internal communications seen by Noticer News.

Nine other magistrates courts around the state employ SALOs, a role which pays up to $85,797 per year plus superannuation in order to “educate and support to Aboriginal court users as to navigating court services and process” and help them manage fines.

No similar roles exist to assist White Australians or any other non-Indigenous group of “court users”.

According to the documents, Ms Mitchell, who is Indigenous herself, works with Aboriginals who have been in custody to get their fines cleared or reduced via Fine Expiation Orders (FEO) or by referring them for Work Development Permits (WDP, and said she had helped one person get fines worth $31,213.30 wiped out.

FEOs in Western Australia allow criminals to reduce unpaid fines by $250 a day for every day spent in custody since September 2020, as long as they do not have the means to pay, enough property to sell to pay, and will be unlikely to have the means or property within a “reasonable time”.

A WDP also requires a means test and allows people who cannot pay their court fines to complete community service activities at rates of between $50 to $70 per hour in order to reduce their fines.

“Every morning I print out the daily court list for listed Aboriginal court users, an average of around 20 to 30 in each court room,” Ms Mitchell was quoted as saying in the documents.

“I then check each Aboriginal court user’s fines, taking note if they are suspended, if they need new fines added to time to pay, or to enter into a new time to pay. I look at options for a WDP and/or means test to pay what they can afford depending on their personal situation, and check if they are eligible for FEO.”

She said she then tracks them down in the court rooms, brings them the forms they need to apply to have their fines cleared, and helps them fill them out.

She also helps Aboriginals going through the mental health court, the drug court and the Intellectual Disability Diverson Program Court, and said common reasons for fines including driving unlicensed, trespassing, and due to convictions related to drug and alcohol abuse.

“It’s difficult to assist sometimes as some Aboriginal people don’t have birth certificates, so they can’t get a driver’s licence,” she said.

“Or a single parent with several kids might have a licence suspension or have lost their licence but wants to make sure the children go to school, so they drive them knowing what the consequences may be.

“If an employed Aboriginal person loses their licence, they may not be able to get to work, particularly if there’s no public transport near where they live and they may lose their job depending on their employer.

“Others may be homeless and regularly attract a fine for trespassing. And others have suffered domestic violence, trauma, and drink alcohol or use drugs to block it out, which may lead to getting arrested, charged and/or a fine for disorderly behaviour or failing to obey public officers.

“I’m not saying they don’t do the wrong thing, but if you’re homeless and you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from, fines aren’t high on your list of priorities.”

According to the most recent Legal Aid WA Annual Report, more than 4,000 WDPs were issued in the year to June 2023, resulting in $4.5 million in expiated court fines.

Noticer News contacted the Perth Magistrates Court for comment.

Terence Kelly Aboriginal crime
Indigeous kidnapper Terence Kelly was sentenced to 13 years’ jail for abducting four-year-old Cleo Smith in 2021 in Carnarvon, Western Australia, but may be eligible for an FEO when he is released (Facebook)

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