Guest Post: Magistrates struggle (again) with the use of imprisonment for non-payment of council tax – by Sam Genen and Sophie Walker

“Or perhaps the culture surrounding committal proceedings is generally inappropriate. The purpose of these regulations is to secure payment of the debt and imprisonment should be the last resort. And yet, in Ms Woolcock’s case, like in many others, it might be thought that imprisonment was in reality used as a form of punishment with insufficient attention being paid to the alternatives to custody.”

UK Human Rights Blog

prison-barsR (Woolcock & Bridgend Magistrates Court) v Cardiff Magistrates Court and Bridgend County Council [2017] EWHC 34 (Admin) (judgment awaiting publication)

There is an exceedingly long line of case law, stretching back beyond the days of the community charge (which was of course better known as the Poll Tax). In those cases, the courts have traditionally quashed custodial orders improperly imposed by magistrates for non-payment of council taxes.

Most recently, the legal charity Centre for Criminal Appeals have picked up the reins as part of their work challenging unduly harsh sentencing practices.  The case of R(Woolcock & Bridgend Magistrates Court) v Cardiff Magistrates Court and Bridgend County Council, a judicial review claim, is the first of the cases supported by the Centre to reach the High Court, and concerned imprisonment of a woman who had failed to make council tax payments required of her.

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One thought on “Guest Post: Magistrates struggle (again) with the use of imprisonment for non-payment of council tax – by Sam Genen and Sophie Walker

  1. “Relevant principles

    Helpfully, at paragraph 27, Lewis J runs through the legal principles surrounding Regulation 47. They are uncontroversial, but bear repeating:

    * The power to commit can only be used to extract payment and not as punishment.

    * The magistrates must enquire about means, and consider whether the failure to pay was the result of wilful default or culpable neglect – only if that is the case may an order for imprisonment be mad.

    * In order to determine whether the defaulting party has been guilty of culpable neglect, the means enquiry must consider the period of time in respect of when the debt was owed.

    * The means enquiry should also consider the present position of the debtor to determine whether he or she is in a position to pay the debt, and then consider which enforcement options are available.”

    Like

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