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Can someone please advise if it is normal for a Magistrates Court to make it a condition for someone who is fighting the Council Tax cuts and who has requested to be heard by a District Judge, they must supply a copy of their defence to the local authority and the Court 14 days before the hearing? The magistrate actually stated "we will not allow anyone to ambush the local authority with a legal argument, therefore you must present a defence to the court and the local authority 14 days prior to the hearing". When questioned about whether this puts the individual at a disadvantage the reply is "No". Is this correct?

 

Here are my notes from memory of what happened today:

 

Council Tax Summons Appearance - 6 August 2013

 

1) About 150 people turned up and were told by a council official to go to the One Stop shop to arrange a payment plan. They were not advised they had a right to challenge the charges in fact they were told the Liability Order would be granted regardless of whether they went to the One stop shop or went into the court room.

 

This is clear mis-information and "Contempt of Court" because they are effectively saying the outcome of a supposedly impartial hearing was pre-determined.

 

They also neglected to tell people by making an arrangement to pay they forfeit their legal right to challenge unfair charges in court and accept the charges as applied by the local authority.

 

 

2) Everone is entitled to a "Mckenzie Friend" and all courts are open to the public. However people were not being made aware of their legal right to sit in the Public Gallery. As such they were denied the legal right to moral support and counsel.

 

3) Local authority Officers were wearing name badges but when questioned the name badge was different from the name they supplied.

 

4) People were being taken into a side room and naturally presumed they were speaking to an advocate. However in truth it was another officer of the council who wanted to know what they were going to say to the court so the council officers could prepare an adequate defense in order to "prove" the liability order should be enforced.

 

5) Because I had spoken out I was kept until last, along with another individual who supported me. This was clearly a form of intimidation. (let them cool their heels mentality etc)

 

6) The letter issued as a summons does not carry a court seal and does not state under which law, legislation or regulations people are being prosecuted.

 

7) There was no court recorder in attendance to document the proceedings

 

8) The council officer presenting the prosecutions to the Magistrates confirmed she was an officer of the council but was not legally qualified.

 

9) The council failed to answer when questioned how many people had been summonsed on the day.

 

10) The council failed to produce documents specific to the case. As such "No Case To Answer" became the defence but this was ignored by the Magistrates.

 

11) The matter continued and turned to the failure to have a Public Consultation when reducing the Council Tax Benefit as required under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007

 

12) Additionally the Council has failed in its Duty of Care towards its vulnerable residents. The costs are punitive and there is no right to appeal in order to contest the costs. Attempts at arrangements to pay prior to the court appearance failed. They insisted costs would still be applied which is unreasonable.

 

13)Presented to the Bench - The Council is guilty of procedural ultra vires (acting beyond its powers)

 

14) resented to the Bench - The council is failing to consider the relevant facts of individual cases in order not to act in an unreasonable manner (Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation [1948] 1 KB 223. The coucil has acted unreasonably by its application for a liability order.

 

15) Presented to the Bench - The council appears to be prepared to act beyond its powers by placing budgetry considerations above the Common Law Duty of Care owed to this community and the individuals within it.

 

16) The court advised "This is not the correct place to discuss this". When pressed they agreed the matter should be sent before a District Judge in order to preserve the legal right to be heard and have a fair trial.

 

17) The case was adjourned to appear before a District Judge on 03 Sept 2013 9:45am (Court 6)

A condition was placed by the Magistrates all defence documents must be submitted to the Local Authority and to the Court 14 days prior to the hearing.

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This is correct, defence/witness statements etc are usually provided to both court and opposition prior to the hearing.

 

Anywhere between 7 - 14 days prior.

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Is this any help?

 

Excerpt from the Justices Clerks' Society under heading "Procedure: Liability Order Application":

 

2. The court hears a bulk application for all non-attenders: the Council representative proves the technical requirements and gives evidence that the sums levied have not been paid.

 

3. Any defendant attending or writing to the court is dealt with individually and orders made (or not made) in their case. Their attendance or otherwise is also recorded.

 

From the same document....

 

5. Procedures prior to the hearing

 

The Court and its staff should not give the impression that the Council is in charge of the process.

 

 

Something on human rights taken from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy's (CIPFA) website:

 

Human Rights Act 1998

 

Local authorities must be careful not to infringe an individual's human rights. Potential areas for problems are:

 

• notice of hearing;

 

• being careful not to appear to stop the taxpayer appearing before the court, if they want only to make a payment arrangement;

 

• not having available a translator for people whose first language is not English; and

 

• not separating the roles of court taking officer and the person who gives evidence of process.

 

 

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Thanks for the replies @citizenb and @outlawla

 

Your reply has been incredible helpful @outlawla and has given me something very concrete to work with. Please do add more information if you come across anything.

 

Thanks again

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....They also neglected to tell people by making an arrangement to pay they forfeit their legal right to challenge unfair charges in court and accept the charges as applied by the local authority....

 

 

You might have already downloaded "this guide" from the Department of Communities and Local Government. If so, check you've got a copy with the amendment at paragraph 3.4:

 

3.4 Local Authorities are reminded that they are only permitted to charge reasonable costs for the court summons and liability order. In the interests of transparency, Local Authorities should be able to provide a breakdown, on request, showing how these costs are calculated. While it is likely that authorities will have discussed costs with the Clerk to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority.

 

 

 

Although the report from the DCLG is recent, something similar exists in guidance from September 1993 in the form of the Department for Environment's Recovery and Enforcement Council Tax Practice No 9 under heading Liability Orders.

 

3.18...The order will include the costs reasonably incurred by the authority in securing the order. Whilst it is likely that authorities will have discussed a scale of fees with the Clerk to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority.

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Some references to liability order court costs:

 

On Southwark Council's website:

 

9. Southwark currently [2008] seeks £65 in respect of the summons costs and a further £30 if the summons is not paid and the court has to make a liability order (making a total of £95 where a liability order is sought). This includes a court issue fee of £3.00.

 

10. When making an order for costs, the court must be satisfied that the sum it orders has been “reasonably incurred” by the council. It is therefore the Court’s decision as to the level of costs (if any) awarded on a liability order.

 

11. These costs sought are consistent with the costs sought by local authorities across the London area and were agreed by the London Forum of Magistrates’ Clerks in October 2005 upon request from the London Revenues Group and introduced into the service from April 2006.

 

12. The council has made several requests of the London Revenues Group to provide a breakdown of these costs but the London Revenues Group has been unable to provide this. Enquiries of the London Forum have also been unsuccessful. The council has therefore not been able to provide such a calculation to the constituent.

 

 

An FoI made to Cambridge City Council

 

...Local Magistrates hearing the case(s) retain discretion to agree and grant costs and although the City Council will apply for £68.00 the Court has the discretion to allow the costs or substitute another amount if it is deemed appropriate.

 

The level of proposed costs are discussed with the Court office on a regular basis and prior to any proposed increase. This does not mean that costs are agreed in advance but simply that the Court(s) are aware of the level of costs that the Council will request at the hearing...

 

 

Paragraph 7 of "this Drafted Case" by Magistrates' Court for an appeal by way of a "Case Stated" to the High Court, expresses its take on costs orders.

 

7. We were of the following opinion:-

 

a) We recognise that in all cases where costs are claimed we always have a discretion as to whether to order them, and if so, in what sum. Although the appellant admitted the matter of complaint and costs would therefore normally follow the event, the fact that the respondent asked for the normal amount of amount of costs in this case did not prevent us from reducing the amount or refusing to make an order for costs at all.

 

b) The respondent, as with other council tax billing authorities, has taken a broad approach to the question of requests for costs and has sought a similar amount in this case as with all others in the in the same court list. In normal circumstances this is appropriate, although we accept we must look at each case individually.....

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Once again @outlawla your information is incredibly useful. I need to build a case within the next 2 weeks and this will certainly help me to do it. so far I can pursue the following:

1) I believe the local authority is acting beyond its powers by reducing the Council Tax Support without public consultation. They also may be guilty of maladministration depending on how this decision was reached.

2) They have failed in their duty of care by reducing the Council Tax Support and taking people they know cannot aford to pay the bill to Magistrates Court.

3) They have abused their position and given misinformation and misrepresented their powers regarding the process at the magistrates court.

4) Their costs are unreasonable and they have failed to provide a breakdown of costs on a per capita basis

5) They have breached the Human Rights of their constituents with the actioned aforementioned.

6) The magistrates at Wirral Magistrates Court appear to be unaware of the law pertaining to costs and the fact they do not have to award them

7) The magistrates appear to be unaware of the law regarding Mackenzie Friends and representation

8) The summons may not be a legal document, making any court action and decision invalid

 

Have I missed anything?

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An approach worth considering.....

 

If you suspect that a justices' clerk issues summonses as a matter of course, i.e., without having applied his mind, it might be a good idea to cite "Regina v Brentford Justices ex parte Catlin [1975] QB 455".

"
...
before a summons or warrant is issued the information must be laid before a magistrate and he must go through the judicial exercise of deciding whether a summons or warrant ought to be issued or not. If a magistrate authorises the issue of a summons without having applied his mind to the information then he is guilty of dereliction of duty...

One reason this case law may be relevant is – if you are dealing with Wirral Borough Council – they follow the same procedure in liability order applications for Business Rates (NNDR) as for Council Tax. They impose summons costs of £43 before the case is heard, and once a liability is obtained, a further £20 in both cases.

 

Wirral Borough Council and the Magistrates' Court – if there was any justice – should seriously be considering their legal positions, not only for the profiteering the court is facilitating, but the breach of the law in Business Rates liability order applications.

 

Laws governing recovery of Business Rates through the Magistrates' Court are not the same for Council Tax. Unlike Council Tax Regulations which provide for Summons Costs to be claimed against the defaulter, the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989, do not, neither do any subsequent amendments. However, Wirral Borough Council unlawfully imposes summons costs on defaulting Business ratepayers and the Magistrates Court has not noticed. I consider that to be a case of dereliction of duty.

 

It has been admitted that no provision exists for a summons costs to be imposed this way (for business rates) in a Freedom of Information request made to North East Lincolnshire Council.

 

EDIT:

 

This blog, and the comments may give you some further ideas.

Edited by outlawla
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Once again @outlawla you have my thanks for the very useful information. Do you (or can anyone else provide insight) if it is legal for me to submit an invoice to the local authority for my time spent on this matter? If so do they have to pay it? What would be the correct procedure to follow?

Thanks again

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Once again @outlawla you have my thanks for the very useful information. Do you (or can anyone else provide insight) if it is legal for me to submit an invoice to the local authority for my time spent on this matter? If so do they have to pay it? What would be the correct procedure to follow?

Thanks again

 

Not sure what your options are in regards getting compensated for you time. I suppose the authorities only consider their own time to be of any importance for accounting purposes.

 

As far as invoicing the council, I can't see there's anything to lose but wouldn't hold out much hope.

 

Presumably there's a possibility the Judge may order costs at the 3rd September hearing. I assume if you represent yourself you could submit a claim for costs and use the Litigant in Person rate which I think is around £18/hour. Please note these are my assumptions, and I guess if costs can be awarded to you, they could also be awarded against you.

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