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Coronavirus: be careful about accepting penalty notices

by Anastazja Niedzielska-Pitera
22 April 2020

The number of penalty notices issued by the police to the general public for violations of the new restrictions is growing. Please remember that everyone can refuse to accept a penalty notice. You can benefit from exercising this right because the new regulations spark numerous controversies.

Extraordinary restrictions on citizens have been introduced by virtue of the Health Minister’s regulation issued in connection with the state of epidemic emergency. They include, without limitation, a ban on free movement, ban on assemblies, ban on going out imposed on people below 18 years of age (later below 13 years of age). Those bans are usually enforced by the police officers issuing penalty notices. However, you should remember that Polish laws do not require you to accept such penalty notices. Article 97(2) of the Code of Procedure for Misdemeanours allows everyone to refuse to accept a penalty notice. Moreover, every public officer is obliged to instruct the citizen about that right. You do not have to say why you refuse to accept a penalty notice and the officer has to respect it.


What happens after you refuse to accept a penalty notice

If you refuse to accept a penalty notice, you will not become obliged to pay the penalty fine. However, the officer then has to request the court to punish you. The case goes to the district court’s misdemeanour division. After some time, the court notifies the individual who has refused to accept a penalty notice of the date of the trial. Normally, such a trial is scheduled within six months. The current suspension of court hearings may extend this time considerably. At the trial, you have to present your arguments to the court. The court then may e.g. waive the penalty notice or dismiss the proceedings.


Refusal to accept a penalty notice – arguments “for”

Why is it worth refusing to accept a penalty notice? Mainly because the legal grounds for the restrictions imposed due to the epidemic spark serious controversies. Most of the restrictions limit our constitutional rights and freedoms. They include the freedom of movement (Article 52 of the Constitution), freedom of assembly (Article 57) and the right to respect private life (Article 47). Those rights and freedoms may be restricted only by means of a statute and only if a state of emergency is declared. The existing bans have been imposed by means of a regulation (not a statute) and without declaring a state of emergency. Consequently, courts, which apply the Constitution directly, may waive penalty notices in absence of valid legal grounds for issuing them.

Statute of limitations on penalty notices

A misdemeanour ceases to be punishable if more than a year has passed since it was committed. This means that if a request for penalty does not arrive in court in that period, you will be free of any liability. If a request is submitted within a year of the misdemeanour, the time limit for the penalty is extended to two years. This is the deadline for the court to rule on the case. Court hearings have been cancelled because of the epidemic, and judges and court clerks are overloaded. This allows a presumption that some misdemeanours will become statute-barred.


What to do if you encounter a police patrol

Remember that the police always has to ask why e.g. you have left home before they impose any penalty. Even though you are not obliged to answer, it is always best to politely talk to the officers and explain how you are fulfilling the basic needs of your everyday life at that time. They can be interpreted broadly. Such a conversation may convince the police to give up on further steps or give you just an admonishment. When reasonable arguments do not suffice and you face a fine of, say, 12 thousand zloty for riding a bike, you may be better off not accepting the penalty notice. But you will have to show up in court. When you refuse to accept a penalty notice, it is worth asking the officer to include a note in the request for punishment saying that in the course of the police intervention you declared to be fulfilling the basic needs of your everyday life. This may improve your odds of a favourable resolution of the case.


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Anastazja Niedzielska-Pitera

Attorney at law (Poland)

Senior Associate

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