Magistrate quits after being suspended for paying a penniless asylum seeker's fine out of his own pocket

Nigel Allcoat said the decision to penalise him for 'a humanitarian act beggars belief'

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The Independent Online

A senior magistrate has been suspended after he tried to pay a penniless asylum seeker's court fine.

Nigel Allcoat, 65, from Burbage in Leicestershire, tried to pay part of a £180 criminal courts charge levied on a refugee who appeared before him at Leicester Magistrates' Court three weeks ago.

He said the man in his 20s was ordered to pay the fee in June by another court and had appeared before him as a fine defaulter.

He told the Leicester Mercury: "As an asylum seeker, his papers and situation is still being considered by our country and the immigration officials.

"He has a top-up card of £35 a week to purchase necessities in designated stores.

"When he first appeared in court in June before another bench, a friend who runs a Leicester food stall, who occasionally fed him, paid a £60 victim surcharge on behalf of the asylum seeker. This was a generous and human act and should be applauded."

He explained that the man's inability to pay the fine would mean he would be further criminalised.

As an asylum seeker, he cannot legally earn money and to do so could jeopardise his status as an asylum seeker.

"I was appalled that he should be in such a Catch-22 situation, as whichever way he went he would break the law", Mr Allcoat said.

He explained that his primary job was to prevent reoffending so he decided to pay part of the fine himself.

After his suspension, he resigned in disgust and said to be "taken to task for a humanitarian act beggars belief".

Since the beginning of April, courts have been obliged to impose high court costs in a bid by the Ministry of Justice to reduce costs.

I was appalled that he should be in such a Catch 22 situation, as whichever way he went he would break the law

Nigel Allcoat

The move has triggered widespread controversy and has resulted in a judicial revolt with nearly 50 magistrates resigning.

Last week, The Independent revealed that magistrates are using a little known legal convention called "absolute discharge" where a guilty verdict is technically recorded but the court hands out no punishment.

Campaigners have called the fees a "tax on justice" as they encourage people to plead guilty.  

Fines are fixed at £150 for guilty pleas but can rise to £1,000 if the matter goes to trial.

In August, a crowd funding campaign raised over £16,000 for a Kidderminster woman who was fined £328.75 for stealing a 75p pack of Mars Bars.

The Scottish campaigner, Stuart Campbell, who set up the campaign told The Independent it was a "small gesture of solidarity" and called her prosecution "grotesque".