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STOKE MAGISTRATES POLL TAX DECISION CRITICISED BY HIGH COURT

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Stoke on Trent Magistrates' conduct in the case of a poverty-stricken Poll Tax defaulter they had earlier ja...
Stoke on Trent Magistrates' conduct in the case of a poverty-stricken Poll Tax defaulter they had earlier jailed for 14 days 'left much to be desired', a judge ruled in London's High Court.

Mr Justice Dyson said criticism that the magistrates' had been 'casual' in their approach to 24-year-old Martin Tudor's case since he was jailed on October 6 1992 was 'well justified'.

The judge quashed Mr Tudor's 14-day jail sentence, saying the magistrates had been 'perverse' to impose it. 'It is also surprising that the magistrates have not seen fit to assist this court by filing evidence to state their version of what occurred', he added.

'The criticism by Mr Ian Wise (counsel for Mr Tudor) that this indicates a casual approach seems to me to be well justified.'

The court heard notes of evidence had been destroyed about two weeks after the October 6 hearing. And Mr Justice Dyson remarked: 'In my judgement the conduct of the justices and their clerk in this matter leaves a great deal to be desired.

'It seems to me it is irresponsible to destroy the notes of evidence in a case within such a short time of the conclusion of the hearing.'

Mr Tudor was granted Judicial Review of the sentence and the magistrates were ordered to pay the action's legal costs. At the time of the October hearing Mr Tudor - now aged 24 - was pennyless, the court was told.

He had not received Income Support since leaving an Employment Training scheme in 1989, although he is now entitled to the benefit.

The judge commented: 'He is a man of considerable nervous disposition, and suffers from lack of confidence. The result of this has been that since 1989 he has not enjoyed the benefit of Income Support.'

When he appeared before the magistrates on October 6 1992 he was found to have 'culpably neglected' to pay about 3700 in Poll Tax for the years 1990 to 1992.

Had Mr Tudor then been receiving benefit he would have been entitled to an 80% deduction from his Poll Tax bills.

Mr Tudor told the justices that he had 'no income whatsoever', and that he was 'totally dependent on his parents', said the judge. He also offered to try to pay off his arrears using £365 held for him in trust by his mother. But the magistrates were not persuaded, and the 14-day jail term was imposed.

He was released on bail the following day pending his Judicial Review application to the High Court.

Mr Tudor's counsel, Ian Wise, told the court that his client has recently paid off the debt in full because he feared returning to jail if his High Court case failed. The judge ordered that Mr Tudor's case go back before Stoke Justices to be determined 'according to the law'.

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