Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





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Thursday, 7 May 2015

LIABILITY ORDERS, COSTS AND THE HIGH COURT



It`s not all that often that routine matters at magistrates` courts end up at the High Court.  On the other hand all J.P.s will be familiar with the almost rubber stamping exercise ensuring liability orders are made against those failing to pay their council tax.  I use the term rubber stamping advisedly. From my earliest days on the bench I was told that we had no powers to investigate the accuracy or otherwise of a  council`s claim.  On being approved to occupy the middle chair I realised that for the handful of appearances in such matters it was judicious to allow their self representations to be made at least for a limited period thus allowing them to let off the head of steam built up.  Occasionally when it was required interrogation of the prosecuting council officer was helpful and more than once irregularities were revealed which at the very least persuaded that officer to ask for an adjournment so that discrepancies and/or such irregularities could be further investigated. Needless to say many legal advisors were anxious that the bench should not overreach its powers. 

The case mentioned above was occasioned by an appeal against a council`s addition of legal costs to the outstanding tax due.

Many tens of thousands of the poorest in society are now required to pay a small portion of their council tax for the first time in accordance with changes in the benefits system.  Many do not even appreciate just what it is, why it is raised, how it is raised or its purpose.  Many don`t care.  As with the limitations on what a bench can do when faced with claims from the now defunct Child Support Agency I would suggest Justices of the Peace, especially those recently appointed,   use whatever    powers they have to see that justice is done and seen to be done  even when it means invoking some disquiet from the solitary figure the back of whose head views large in their field of view.

2 comments:

  1. I agree entirely. Costs awards should have to be justified. Biggest racket and attack generally on the poor is TV Licensing. Last year the costs asked for went up from £90 to £120 per case with no justification given. There are approximately 200,000 such prosecutions each year. That is a potential costs income of £24,000,000 - a vast sum of money. Where does this income go? Capita to whom TV Licensing is contracted out or the BBC?
    Of course people should buy a licence but once again, it is poor people who don't and they get hammered yet again. At least decent Magistrates can reduce these costs demands on the basis of income which is more than they can do with the appalling newly introduced court charges. Pity the poor indeed. Even more so if Mr Cameron and his Etonian mates get back into power tomorrow.

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  2. interesting reading although powys county council seems to be the king of rubber stamping liability orders, but then they do appear to run their own magistrates court as well. (powys magistrates court). Funny this court is not listed nor registered on the MoJ court finder service. Even had the clerk of the court give the court identification number of Llandrindod wells magistrates court 3351 as its identification number. Do magistrates courts have more than one name or share a court identification number?

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