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Law on seizure of vehicles ‘disproportionately affects’ low-income South Australians, says law expert

Written by Javed Iqbal

Disadvantaged vehicle owners are forced to choose between paying a fee to release their seized cars or to cover legal costs – even if they have a genuine defense against their charge, says the Law Society of South Australia.

SA Police revealed that 822 seized vehicles were destroyed or sold since rules aimed at dangerous motorists were introduced on July 1 last year.

Legislation required alleged offenders to pay up to $ 1,395.50 to release their seized vehicle, otherwise it could be destroyed or sold after 38 days.

Between July 1 last year and June 20, 520 vehicles were crushed for scrap metal, while 302 were auctioned off.

During the same period, 635 vehicles were released due to difficulties.

The alleged offenses ranged from driving in an unregistered vehicle to drink driving, among incidents or dangerous driving.

Not everyone can afford release fees

That The Law Society of SA has previously criticized the new ruleswith its president Justin Stewart-Rattray warning that vehicles seized and potentially destroyed before a person was found guilty would “disproportionately affect less affluent South Australians”.

“Society is aware of cases involving drivers who are facing the destruction of their vehicle, who have potentially had a genuine defense to their charge, but who have not been able to pay the seizure fee required to release their car, and who also can not afford legal representation, “he said.

“And because most of the offenses that could result in car forfeiture are not covered by legal aid, the drivers in these cases have no legal access to challenge a charge.

“Now that the car seizure scheme has been in place for almost 12 months and we are starting to see lawsuits where the evidence against defendants is being tested, it is likely that there will be cases where people get their charges dismissed or withdrawn, which may then lead people to seek compensation for their own expenses as a result of their car being seized. “

Adelaide car performs burnout on north-south corridor
A car that burned out on the north-south corridor was caught on camera.(Youtube: SAPOL)

A spokesman for SA police said they could not comment on court results if anyone connected with the seized vehicles.

But they said a refund will be paid if a case is adjourned, withdrawn or a person is found not guilty by the court.

The Law Society of SA calls for vehicle release fees to be paid on conviction and for re-payment plans to be reinstated.

“Clearly, those who will find it difficult to pay for the substantial release fee and can not afford to contest a charge, even if they have a legitimate defense, will be far worse off than those who can comfortably pay for, that their vehicle will be released, “he said.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that there are no payment plan options for low-income earners, which only serves to anchor disadvantages, although society notes that the police commissioner has the discretion to waive seizure charges in the event of severe financial difficulties.”

Rules aimed at reckless driving: Minister

Police figures show that 23 out of 37 lost lives on SA roads this year were due to speeding or dangerous driving.

Police and Road Safety Minister Joe Szakacs said the state toll was a stark reminder that dangerous driving was not an innocent act.

“The government will continue to seek advice from SA police on the laws to ensure they are properly implemented – including the forfeiture, sale and smashing of vehicles.”

The Law Society of SA said it supported measures to deter dangerous driving, but questioned whether the car seizure scheme was the most effective model, as several offenses under the scheme do not relate to rough driving.

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Javed Iqbal

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