In 1928, The Australian Law Journal was still in its first year of publication, and NSW debated whether police should able to issue fines for traffic offences, or whether this would confuse the role of police officers. The ALJ cautioned for “careful consideration”.
The Minister for Justice for New South Wales recently made an unofficial statement as to the possibility of an alteration being made in the method of dealing with minor offences, particularly, we presume, minor traffic offences. He said that he had lately gone into the question of disposing of minor offences by what is known as “tagging” and set penalties. This would do away with the necessity of bringing all offenders into Court by adopting standard fines for minor offences to be imposed by, and paid to, a police constable on the spot. We take it that it would be for the offender to decide whether he would be dealt with in this manner. No doubt the introduction of such a system would mean a saving in time on everybody’s part. Neither the police constable nor the offender would need to attend Court and, if a great number of offences could be disposed of in this manner, there would be some saving of the time of the magistrates.
Some questions, however, suggest themselves as to the advisability of the introduction of such a system. Is it desirable to give to police constables, who are executive officers, any judicial power–even a judicial power exercised only with the consent of the accused? Should the police constable’s primary duty to be a witness as to facts be confused with the functions of a judge of facts? Again as a matter of sound principle, is it not desirable that all offences, great and small, should be treated alike, and that all offenders, though only in a minor respect and admittedly guilty, should be brought before a proper judicial tribunal to be punished? Is it not possible that the proposed system may have the effect of increasing the number of offences of this nature by producing an impression that to commit such an offence is a liberty, to obtain which a license may be purchased at a fixed price, rather than a wrong, which must be punished by a penalty? These and other questions should receive careful consideration before any such system, however well it may be thought to act in other countries, is introduced here.
Today the ability of police to issue fines is rarely questioned, although the extension of police powers to include “move-on” powers, and the continued reversal of the presumption of innocence in drug, and other offences, continues to be debated in the pages of our Journals.
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