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POLL TAX DEFAULTERS NOW ENTITLED TO LEGAL AID

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The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a claim by a jailed poll tax defaulter that he was denied a fair tria...
The European Court of Human Rights has upheld a claim by a jailed poll tax defaulter that he was denied a fair trial because he was not entitled to legal aid.

Liberty, the organisation which brought Stephen Benham's appeal, said the ruling would have serious implications for the thousands of people brought before the magistrates' courts each year for non-payment of fines.

It meant that people unable to pay their child maintenance or council tax bills, for example, would be entitled to legal assistance.

Although fines for such offences are not defined as criminal, they are to be treated as such because the penalty could be committal to prison for default, the court said.

Liberty said the decision would increase access to justice to those who had previously been denied it. 'More often than not, those unwilling or unable to pay a fine are those living on income support.'
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