13:15, March 26 171 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-26 13:15:05
Taking action for those jailed over unpaid council tax

The current council tax system is not only “highly regressive” because of its weak links to property values as suggested in Phillip Inman’s article (Report, 20 March). Since council tax replaced the community charge in 1992, thousands of people in England and Wales have been jailed for not having paid their council tax. Unlike most other civil debts, people who fail to pay their council tax can be brought before criminal courts and imprisoned, despite having committed no actual crime.

Even more worryingly, evidence now shows that year after year there have been significant numbers of people being unlawfully imprisoned for non-payment of council tax. The high court recently acknowledged, in a claim for judicial review brought by a single mother caring for an elderly neighbour, that between 9.5% and 18% of people imprisoned for council tax non-payment are sent there unlawfully. This is likely to be one of the largest mass miscarriages of justice in British history.

We believe the government should: 1. Abolish regulation 47(3) of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992, that allows the committal to prison for council tax non-payment. 2. Review the court files of all those imprisoned for council tax debt in England and Wales between 2010 and 2017 to identify those who may have been wrongfully jailed and to inform them of this fact. 3. Create an ex-gratia award scheme, overseen by independent adjudicators, to afford compensation to those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for council tax debt. 4. Ensure that in all courts where proceedings for council tax debt are under way, defendants are told of their right to free legal assistance, pursuant to the decision of the European court of human rights in Benham v UK (1996) 22 EHRR 293.

Debt is not a crime. Let’s stop treating it like one.

Aaron J Dolan Administrator, Criminal Bar Association

Abigail Wheatcroft Caseworker, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Alistair Chisholm Head of advice sector policy and partnerships, PayPlan

Amanda Weston QC Barrister, Garden Court Chambers

Angela Rafferty QC Chair, Criminal Bar Association

Anna Yearley Executive director, Reprieve

Baroness Hilary Armstrong of Hill Top

Baronness Martha Lane Fox of Soho

Cathy Stancer Director, Lankelly Chase Foundation

Christopher Callender Solicitor, Steel and Shamash

Christopher David Counsel, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Christopher Henley QC Vice-chair, Criminal Bar Association

Clive Stafford Smith Founder, Reprieve

Daniel Martin Head of criminal defence, Blaser Mills Law

Deborah Bowker Solicitor, Steel and Shamash

Deborah Russo Joint managing solicitor, Prisoners’ Advice Service

Donal Lawler Barrister, Criminal Bar Association

Dr Dennis Eady Cardiff School of Law and Politics

Dr Hannah King Acting director of education and assistant professor of criminology, University of Durham

Dr Ivan Hill Senior fellow, the Higher Education Academy

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson Director, UK Women’s Budget Group

Emily Bolton Founder and legal director, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Emma Fenn Secretary, Criminal Bar Association

Frances Crook CEO, Howard League for Penal Reform

Gillian Jones QC Treasurer, Criminal Bar Association

Glyn Maddocks Solicitor and founding trustee of the Centre for Criminal Appeals

Harriet Johnson Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers

Harriet Wistrich Founder and CEO, Centre for Women’s Justice

James Burley Caseworker, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Joe Hingston Barrister, Carmelite Chambers

Kate Paradine CEO, Women in Prison

Louise Hewitt Lecturer in law, University of Greenwich

Lucy Baldwin Senior lecturer, lead on women, family, crime and justice research network

Martine Lignon Chair, Prisoners’ Advice Service

Mary Pimm Trustee, Women in Prison

Maya Foa Director, Reprieve

Miriam Thompson Solicitor, Faradays Solicitors

Naima Sakande Women’s justice advocate, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Otilia Ioana Galca Criminal defence paralegal, Faradays Solicitors

Paramjit Ahluwalia Barrister, Garden Court Chambers

Penelope Gibbs Director, Transform Justice

Professor Claire McGourlay Legal education, University of Manchester

Professor Julie Price Head of pro bono, Cardiff School of Law and Politics

Professor Rob Canton Community and criminal justice, De Montford University

Rachel Browne Solicitor, Steel and Shamash

Rachel Duffey CEO, PayPlan

Rebecca Huggins Solicitor, trustee, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Richard Owen Associate professor, Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law

Robert Wilson Chief executive, Institute of Money Advisers

Rona Epstein Academic and researcher, Coventry University

Sally Middleton Solicitor, Birnberg Peirce

Sam Genen Solicitor, Steel and Shamash

Sarah Vine Wellbeing director, Criminal Bar Association

Shauneen Lambe Founder, Just for Kids Law

Simone Abel Director of operations, policy and resources, Reprieve

Stephen Burrell Doctoral researcher, Durham University

Suzanne Gower Managing director and solicitor, Centre for Criminal Appeals

Yvonne Roberts Chair, Women in Prison

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