Law report: No right of silence in poll tax proceedings: Regina v Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court and another, ex parte Watkins: Queen's Bench Division (Mr Justice Henry), 9 October 1992

A person cannot rely on the privilege against self-incrimination to justify refusing to answer questions as to their means and as to why they have not paid their community charge when appearing before a magistrates' court on an application, under regulation 41 of the Community Charges (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1989 (SI 438), for their committal to prison for non- payment.

It was no crime not to pay the poll tax, and a defaulter, by appearing in such proceedings, did not thereby risk prosecution or penalty within the meaning of section 14(1) of the Civil Evidence Act 1968.

Mr Justice Henry refused an application by Phoebe Watkins for judicial review by way of orders of mandamus to compel the Highbury Corner Justices, when hearing a committal application by Islington London Borough Council, (i) to hear legal argument as to her compellability as a witness, or (ii) to permit her the assistance of a friend in court.

But although his Lordship denied the applicant the formal relief she had sought, he upheld her complaint that she should, at a committal hearing on 21 April 1992, have been permitted the advice and assistance of a friend in court and should been given an opportunity to cross-examine the local authority's witnesses.

Hugo Charlton (Graham Bash & Co) for the applicant.

MR JUSTICE HENRY said that the justices, in pursuance of their statutory power to inquire into the debtor's means and as to whether her failure to pay community charge was due to her wilful refusal or culpable neglect, had called the applicant into the witness box. But she would not answer their questions for three reasons.

(1) She had prepared her case with the assistance of a friend and wanted her friend to advise her and assist her in court, but the friend had been refused entry to the court.

(2) She had been denied the opportunity to cross-examine the local authority's principal recovery officer on the evidence he had given the justices as to the steps taken by the authority to recover community charge.

(3) She wished to challenge her obligation to answer questions put to her and to address legal argument to the court on her entitlement to rely on the privilege against self-incrimination.

The justices took the view that since the procedure under regulation 41 was merely a means inquiry and involved no point of law, there was nothing on which the friend could assist and no relevant questions to be put to the recovery officer.

On the first issue it was clear, in his Lordship's judgment, following R v Leicester City Justices, ex p Barrow (1991) 2 QB 260, that a litigant in person was entitled, in the interests of fairness, to have the assistance of an adviser in court, unless, in the interests of justice and to maintain order and regulate the proceedings, the court ordered otherwise. The mere fact that the proceedings were, in the court's view, simple and straightforward was not a reason for denying such assistance.

On the second question, although the applicant could not reopen the issue of her liability to pay, a liability order having already been made in earlier proceedings in which she had an opportunity of challenging it, the present proceedings were more than just a means inquiry. The justices had to be satisfied that the charging authority had attempted to levy distress and had found insufficient goods on which to levy it, and as to the precise amount still outstanding and whether anything had been paid since the liability order. These things had to be proved, and were susceptible to challenge by cross-examination.

As for the third (and most important) question, the Common Law privilege against self-incrimination was now set out in section 14 of the Civil Evidence Act 1968, which was declaratory of the Common Law. See Re Westinghouse Electric Corporation (1978) AC 547 at 636 (per Lord Diplock).

Section 14 read: '(1) The right of a person in any legal proceedings other than criminal proceedings to refuse to answer any question . . . if to do so would tend to expose that person to proceedings for an offence or for the recovery of a penalty (a) shall only apply as regards criminal offences under the law of any part of the United Kingdom and penalties provided for by such law . . .'

That was quite clear, as was its application. Proceedings under regulation 41 were plainly legal proceedings other than criminal proceedings, since they were proceedings for the recovery of unpaid tax. The applicant's answers as to her means and as to why she had not paid would not expose her to proceedings for a criminal offence, because it was no crime not to pay the poll tax, any more than it would have been not to pay rates.

In this context, moreover, 'penalty' clearly meant something in the nature of a fine provided for by statute: see Re Westinghouse (above) at 563-565. There was no provision in regulation 41 for the imposition of any such penalty.

It followed that the privilege against self-incrimination had no relevance to questions asked in civil proceedings for the recovery of unpaid tax. It would not have provided the applicant wih a 'just excuse' under section 97(4) of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980, and she would have been vulnerable, under that section, to be committed into custody for her refusal to give evidence.

Although she should have been allowed to argue this point before the justices, since it would clearly fail it was not right now to order the justices to hear it. Nor was it necessary, having set out the law, to order the justices to permit the applicant the assistance of her friend.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?