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SANDWELL POLL TAX DEBTOR CLAIMS JAIL TERM IS 'EXCESSIVE'

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A 26-year-old Warley man, jailed for ninety days over Poll Tax arrears, is battling for his freedom in London's Hig...
A 26-year-old Warley man, jailed for ninety days over Poll Tax arrears, is battling for his freedom in London's High Court.

Michael Harrison has already served 29 days of his sentence at Blakenhurst Prison, Redditch, and the time has now come when he should be released, his counsel, Mr Ian Wise, said. Mr Wise alleged Warley Justices treated Mr Harrison 'worse than a criminal' when they jailed him for 90 days for failure to pay about £400 Poll Tax on October 11 this year to Sandwell MBC.

Jail terms imposed on those who failed to pay equivalent criminal fines were usually around 14 days, Mr Wise told the court. And he claimed it was unlawful and unreasonable of the magistrates to impose the maximum jail term available for Poll Tax default when there were no aggravating features in the case.

The court heard that on September 2 this year, the Magistrates found he had 'culpably neglected' to pay Poll Tax and fixed a 90-day prison term, suspended on condition that he pay £10 per fortnight towards the Poll Tax debt. Mr Harrison received just £44 each week in Income support and could not pay the instalments, Mr Wise said. And, on October 11, the magistrates activated the jail term.

The prison sentence was 'lacking in proportionality' to jail terms imposed upon those who failed to pay criminal fines. But Mr Wise said it was agreed that the council had tried to recover the Poll Tax debt by siezing Mr Harrison's goods - although the local authority's baillifs found nothing worth taking. He agreed that the magistrates had made proper inquiry into Mr Harrison's means, but claimed the 90- day jail term was 'excessive'. The hearing before Mr Justice McCullough continues.
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