The magistrates had not considered deducting payments from Mr Gratton's Income Support benefit, said the judge. But they had gone ahead to jail him for culpably neglecting to pay 'nearly £400 in Community Charge' owing to Ambery Valley Council for the year 1990/91, the judge said.
'Prison should not be used as a big stick for punishment in civil cases such as these,' added the judge. 'We all know now that Community Charge liability should only be visited with prison if there is no other way in which the money can be extracted. At the time he was sentenced he was under 21 and the court did not publicly proclaim that there was no alternative but prison as is the law when dealing with an under 21-year-old,' he added.
He said Mr Gratton, of (2) Willow Avenue, Alfreton, had already served 15 days in prison by the time he was bailed by the High Court on February 23 this year. 'Since he has served 15 days it seems to me it would not be fair for me to send this case back to the magistrates for reconsideration,' the judge said. 'But perhaps as a matter of conscience he might pay the money and so reduce the burden on his fellow Community Charge payers,' concluded the judge.
Ian Poole now lives on income support with his girlfriend and her young son after his business collapsed under the weight of the recession and his home was repossessed leaving him about £70,000 in debt, his counsel Mr Ian Wise told the court. And Mr Justice Popplewell bailed Mr Poole from Bristol's Horfield Prison pending a full Judicial Review of his case against Northavon Magistrates who jailed him for 92 days on November 15 this year after finding he had wilfully refused to pay Poll Tax.
The judge said it was 'arguable' that the magistrates had failed to consider deducting sums from Mr Poole's income support benefits as an alternative method of extracting payment of £922.42 owed to Kingswood Council.
'It cannot be right that somebody should be imprisoned for willfully refusing to pay when he has never had the ability to pay anyway,' Mr Wise had earlier told the court.
Mr Justice Popplewell granted Mr Poole bail pending the outcome of the full Judicial Review of his case. If agreement is not reached in the meantime, Mr Poole's case will return to the High Court for a full hearing.