International students’ common problems with Australian law and what they can do if they’re in trouble

CHEN Yang is a practising criminal lawyer at Paul Vale Criminal Law whose fluency in Mandarin has enabled him to defend international students in the court of law. The Melbourne lawyer spoke with Stephen Clarke to discuss the intricacies of Australian law and what to do when international students find themselves in trouble.

Melbourne criminal lawyer Chen Yang often represents international students who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Image supplied.

Melbourne criminal lawyer Chen Yang often represents international students who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Image supplied.

When it comes to international students who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, Melbourne criminal lawyer Chen Yang has his fair share of stories.

As a principal of Paul Vale Criminal Law and one of the few Mandarin speaking lawyers in Victoria, Mr Yang has found himself representing international students in a variety of cases with varying degrees of severity over the years. In particular, he noted that students often don’t understand their legal obligations in Australia.

Cultural differences, a lack of awareness of Australian driving laws and failure to either pay off fines or appear for court summons are some of the biggest issues that prompt international students falling into trouble with the law.

“The most prevalent category definitely is traffic law: licence issues, drink driving, driving while suspended and a range of other careless and dangerous driving matters,” said Mr Yang.

“International students who get into a relationship, they often don’t realise, if the relationship turns sour, that the woman has the right not to get chased or not to get stalked.”

“One of the main reasons [why traffic law is a common category] is because international students don’t quite know the legislation or the laws in Victoria, and the Victorian Road Safety and Road Safety legislation is one of the most draconian in Australia, if not the world.”

“For example, a second time drink driving offence…you could go to prison.”

“There’s a lot of students who don’t realise this and in their country if they run a red light, or drive while suspended, or have some alcohol and then drive, the consequences… could be very different. You can’t just pay your way out of a fine, or pay your way out of a court hearing. There are severe consequences if you ignore these kinds of charges.”

Another more troubling issues that Mr Yang often sees are domestic or family violence, and those that arise from intervention orders.

“In a lot of Asian countries, the way the government views domestic violence is that it’s a family matter,” said Mr Yang.

Image supplied.

Image supplied.

“[In Australia] it’s very easy for an individual to go and get an intervention order. If you breach that intervention order there are criminal consequences, and if you repeatedly breach it, that’s when you start running into trouble or going to prison.”

“International students who get into a relationship, they often don’t realise, if the relationship turns sour, that the woman has the right not to get chased or not to get stalked.”

Mr Yang elaborated further by recalling a case involving a PhD candidate who continually harassed a girl he had been involved with.

“[He] got into a relationship and the relationship ended, but he wanted answers from the girl, so he kept on ringing, text messaging her. She obtained an intervention order stopping him doing that but he continued. He was charged multiple times. [On the] final time he [waited] outside her house and she called the police. [He] ended up being imprisoned for about two weeks before we were able to get the matter sorted and basically get him out of Australia.”

Mr Yang said many students leave their legal issues until the last minute or deal with it themselves, which often exacerbates the case and causes them more stress in the long run.

“[There] is no obligation for anyone to obtain legal services if they don’t want to, but when there is that option to get some free advice that’s definitely something that they should take up,” Mr Yang recommends.

“I want to encourage more students to realise that there are a lot of services out there to help you, and [with] a lot of those services, the initial appointment is free.”

Mr Yang also warned against allowing multiple infringements or fines to build up.

If everything’s ignored after about 12 months, they get to a stage where it’s called an infringement warrant, and what we call a sheriff starts to get involved in these matters, because the infringements have become a warrant. And the warrant will be issued for your arrest.”

“I want to encourage more students to realise that there are a lot of services out there to help you, and [with] a lot of those services, the initial appointment is free.”

So what are the first steps an international student ought to take when they find themselves in breach of the law?

Definitely never, ever ignore any kind of summons, bail notices or charges from the police. If you receive a summons to the court; do not ignore that. When you get that, call a lawyer, and they will normally offer you free advice over the phone, or a first appointment for free. I reckon 50 per cent of the time we can resolve the matter in an initial interview. For example, if it’s just a speeding fine we can give you some advice on what you’re likely to receive if you go to court.”

In the end, any time you feel unsure about your obligations under the Australian law, calling a lawyer for free advice can be a decision that will save you a lot of trouble.

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