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WOLVERHAMPTON POLL TAX DEFAULTER WAS WRONGLY JAILED, RULES JUDGE

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A Wolverhampton Poll Tax defaulter was wrongly jailed for 14 days by local magistrates, a judge ruled in London's H...
A Wolverhampton Poll Tax defaulter was wrongly jailed for 14 days by local magistrates, a judge ruled in London's High Court. Mr Justice Schiemann said there was evidence that the magistrates had failed to inquire fully into 26 year-old Steven Denson's personal circumstances before imposing the prison term.

Mr Denson, who served 6 days in prison before being released on bail pending his application to the High Court, had his jail sentence quashed. The judge said that under Community Charge regulations, magistrates' courts were obliged to consider whether Poll Tax default resulted from 'wilfull refusal or culpable neglect.

'It appears from the affidavit which I have before me that that course was not adopted', he added. 'In those circumstances I have no doubt that it is right to quash the order of committment (to prison) which was made by the magistrates, and I so do.'

Mr Denson's counsel, Mr Ian Wise, said his client appeared before Wolverhampton justices after the town's borough council obtained a liability order against him for non-payment of Poll Tax for the year 1990/91. At the October 7 hearing Mr Denson offered to pay off the arrears at a rate of pnds sterling 10-per-week, or to have deductions made from his Income Support, the court heard.

But Mr Denson claimed he was told by the Magistrates' Court Clerk: 'That's no good to us now'. As a last resort he offered to persuade a friend to loan him the money within two days. But the court heard the magistrates committed him to prison for 14 days.

It was that decision Mr Denson, of (1) Glenmore Close, Bradmore, Wolverhampton, challenged today. Mr Wise claimed the magistrates' decision was 'unreasonable and irrational'. He claimed they had ignored guidelines that prison should only be used against Poll Tax defaulters as a weapon of last resort.

Overturning the prison sentence, Mr Justice Schiemann said he had thought of snding Mr Denson's case back for reconsideration by the magistrates. But he concluded: 'I don't find it easy but on balance, bearing in mind that this man has served six days, I think it would be wrong to send the matter back to the magistrates.'

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