Law Report: Poll tax debtor wrongly denied friend's help: Regina v Wolverhampton Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Mould - Queen's Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Waterhouse), 4 November 1992

A community charge debtor, against whom the charging authority was seeking an order committing him to prison for non- payment, might have a greater part to play in the ensuing magistrates' court proceedings than merely giving evidence about his means and about why he had not paid. He might wish to challenge evidence given against him and make submissions to the court, and accordingly it was wrong to refuse his request for the assistance of a friend in court on the basis that he would merely be giving evidence.

The Queen's Bench Divisional Court granted an application by Paul Mould for judicial review to quash the decision of the Wolverhampton Stipendiary Magistrate, on 25 March 1992, to issue a warrant of commitment under regulation 41 of the Community Charges (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1989 (SI 438), imprisoning him for 30 days for non-payment of his community charge. The case was remitted for rehearing.

Rambert de Mello and Hugo Charlton (Tindallwoods & Millichip, West Bromwich) for the applicant; Richard McManus (Solicitor, Wolverhampton Metropolitan Borough Council) for the charging authority; the magistrate did not appear.

LORD JUSTICE KENNEDY said the charging authority had obtained a liability order against the applicant in the sum of pounds 456 in respect of community charge arrears.

After bailiffs had failed to find sufficient goods of the applicant upon which to levy an amount by distress, the charging authority applied for his committal to prison under regulation 41.

At the hearing, the applicant asked if a friend could assist him. After the applicant had been identified, the court clerk asked him if he had understood the proceedings thus far. He said he had.

The magistrate then considered his request for assistance in the light of R v Leicester Justices, ex p Barrow (1991) 1 QB 260 and refused it on the basis that the applicant would simply be required to give evidence on oath as to his personal circumstances during the relevant period, that to do so he did not require assistance from another, and that it would be undesirable for him to be prompted.

The applicant was then called into the witness box and examined by the clerk. He offered to pay his outstanding community charge at pounds 1 per week, which the magistrate considered derisory. The charging authority's representative then presented his case, but did not give his information on oath. The applicant complained that he was given no chance to cross-examine the charging authority's representative.

The magistrate having considered all the information, concluded that the applicant was guilty of culpable neglect and committed him to prison for 30 days.

In his Lordships' judgment, while the magistrate clearly had power to refuse the applicant's request for the assistance of a friend, he could only do so for a good reason. His reason was that the applicant was only there to give evidence on oath as to his personal circumstances. If that was right, then his refusal to allow the applicant the assistance of a friend was hard to fault.

But it was clear from the wording of regulation 41 that the applicant, as a community charge debtor, might well have a part to play going beyond the mere giving of evidence.

First, he might want to challenge any evidence given by the charging authority as to his indebtedness, and as to the steps taken to levy the amount by distress, although in fact no such evidence was given in the instant case and, if R v Dudley Magistrates, ex p Blatchford (1992) RVR 63 was correctly decided, no such evidence was required.

Second, he might wish to challenge any information given to the court as to his means from any source other than himself. Regulation 41(2) was clearly so worded as to permit such evidence.

Third, he might wish to submit to the court that the failure to pay which led to the liability order was not due to his wilful refusal or culpable neglect.

Fourth, he might wish to submit that, even if it was found to be due to one of those causes, the court should not issue a warrant of commitment, preferring, if fixing any term of imprisonment, to make use of the power set out in regulation 41(3)(b), to 'postpone the issue of the warrant until such time and on such conditions (if any) as the court thinks just'.

Accordingly, the magistrate's faulty appraisal of the nature of the proceedings led him to the unsustainable conclusion that the applicant's request for the assistance of a friend should be refused.

While such assistance could always be refused or terminated for a good reason, none was shown here.

His Lordship then went on to reject the applicant's second main argument, that no warrant of commitment should have been issued on 25 March 1992, because the charging authority's application under regulation 41 was out of time.

Section 127 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 provided that 'a magistrates' court shall not try an information or hear a complaint unless the information was laid, or the complaint made, within six months from the time when the offence was committed, or the matter of complaint arose'.

The applicant's case was that the authority was making a 'complaint' within the meaning of that section.

But regulation 41 was invoked without a complaint, so section 127 did not apply, and the authority's application to invoke regulation 41 was not time-barred. MR JUSTICE WATERHOUSE agreed.

Paul Magrath, Barrister

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing