Law Report: Magistrates had no jurisdiction over validity of local rating list: Hackney London Borough Council v Mott and Fairman - Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Auld), 8 June 1994

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A magistrates' court had no jurisdiction to determine the validity of an entry in a non-domestic rating list when deciding whether to make a liability order against a ratepayer. The fact that the valuation officer for the rating authority had made an alteration in the list without notifying the ratepayer within the period specified by the relevant regulations was therefore no defence against the making of the liability order.

Mr Justice Auld allowed an appeal by the rating authority, Hackney London Borough Council, on a case stated by D M Fingleton, a metropolitan stipendiary magistrate sitting at Thames Magistrates' Court on 9 December 1992, following his refusal to make a liability order against the respondents, Mr A Mott and Mr D Fairman, under regulation 12 of the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local List) Regulations 1989 (SI 1056) in respect of the respondents' failure to pay rates for their business premises at Mill House, Chapel Yard, Rivington St, Hackney, London EC2, for the financial year from 1 April 1990.

Michael Humphries (Borough solicitor) for Hackney; the respondents did not appear and were not represented.

MR JUSTICE AULD said the respondents' property should have been included in the rating list for non-domestic properties from 1 April 1990 but was not, due to an error by the valuation officer.

On 25 September 1990, he realised his error and altered his list, notifying the council which, on 3 October 1990, made a corresponding entry in its list. By regulation 8(2) of the Non-Domesting Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeals) Regulations 1990 (SI 582), he was also required to notify the respondents within six weeks. But the notification he sent them on 12 October erroneously described his alteration as the deletion of an existing entry, rather than the insertion of a new one. The respondents, no doubt pleasantly surprised, did nothing to challenge the notice.

It was not until 29 May 1992 that the council first identified the respondents' rates for 1990-91 as unpaid. In June it began to demand payment and in August it issued proceedings in the magistrates' court for a liability order under regulation 12 of the 1989 Regulations. In the meantime, on 27 August the valuation officer wrote belatedly to notify the respondents of the alteration.

Before the magistrate, the respondents argued that the entry in the list was invalid and therefore the rate was not due since no notice of the alteration had been served within six weeks as required by regulation 8(2) of the 1990 Regulations.

The council conceded there had been no effective notice of alteration, as required by regulation 8(2), but argued that did not affect the validity of the alteration made to the list on 25 September 1990. The council also argued, in reliance on regulation 23 of the 1989 Regulations, that the respondents' right of appeal, under section 55 of the 1988 Act and the 1990 Regulations, against the alteration of 25 September 1990, notified to them on 27 August 1992, deprived them of raising any issue as to the validity of the entry in enforcement proceedings in a magistrates' court.

In his Lordship's judgment, the scheme of the 1988 Act and the Regulations made under it precluded magistrates' courts from determining whether an entry in a rating list was valid. Any such challenge could only be made by way of appeal to a local valuation court under regulation 23 of the 1989 Regulations, and thereafter, if appropriate, by application for judicial review. This course was open to the respondents following their receipt of the valuation officer's notice on 27 August 1992, but they did not take it.

It followed that a magistrates' court could not examine the validity of an entry in the list by reference to whether the valuation officer had given proper notice to the ratepayer. Any failure of the valuation officer to give due notice of an alteration did not go to the entitlement of the rating authority to seek a liability order, but to the validity of an entry in the list, which was not a matter for magistrates.

Here, the magistrate was bound to make a liability order under regulation 12(5) of the 1989 Regulations once he was satisfied, as he should have been from the entry in the list, that the sum was payable by the respondents and that it had not been paid. The questions posed in the stated case would be answered accordingly.