I am a magistrate and I'm particularly interested in council tax liability orders.Interesting point. For what it's worth I think that it's right to put the council's representative, who is on oath, through a proper, albeit random, examination and to decline to just sign the orders en bloc. We usually take the thick files out the back, and pore over them with a cup of coffee, and make notes of anything that we want clarified.
We refused to grant liability orders which were presented to us in a block of about 200 in court yesterday. We adjourned the case so they could provide information to prove that the correct procedure had been followed prior to the court hearing. The council was able to prove that it had sent out summonses, but unable to prove that it had sent out final notices (where appropriate) as required by law. We got the same reaction in court we would have got if we'd given Crippen a condiditional discharge.
Our reasoning was that the police are required to prove that they have complied with procedure before we will convict. Is it not reasonable to expect a similar standard of proof from councils? If we just grant liability orders without making any enquiries, it appears not to be possible for taxpayers to challenge whether the procedure has been followed because our court has already "signed" to say it has.
Why get courts to grant liability orders at all if we cannot inquire into whether procedures have been followed? Is it just to give the whole thing the appearance of accountability and judicial scrutiny? Or are we being paranoid?
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
From The Postbag
I get quite a few emails, and here is an edited version of one:-