Council Tax and the Law:
The Off-White Though Still Very Sharp
Teeth of the British State
By David Webb
I sent a long email to a Conservative councillor about council tax summons – and the way they are automated by the council computer system without judicial oversight (a magistrate has to review the evidence before each summons is sent out – pretty impossible when 4m of these summons are being sent out a year – I don’t expect there is even a pro forma attempt at getting the summons signed off by the courts; I expect the courts have ‘agreed’ that the council computers should just send out summons letters without judicial oversight); the way in which council tax cases in magistrates courts are illegally conducted by council officials with no magistrates present; and the way in which £70 is charged for the summons although the summons costs £3 [NE Lincolnshire, a neighbouring area, made £174000 in half an hour from these £70 fees recently by summoning thousands of people to court for one hearing, and only 14 turned up – there is no indication that only ‘reasonable costs’ are charged].
The councillor is a former magistrate and told me on the phone that I am a customer of the council. When I said “I want to take my custom elsewhere; I don’t want to be their customer”, she replied “if you’re disputing the right to levy council tax, it all becomes much more complicated” and sent me a meaningless one sentence email on the subject. The following three emails are the correspondence between me and the councillor. I deleted my phone number and address and council tax reference number.
1. 16 December, my email to a Conservative councillor:
Dear Mrs Xxxxxx,
I have £152 in council tax arrears that I want to pay off in January when I will have the money to pay it. I got a letter dated Monday 12th December to tell me to pay within 7 days or a final reminder would come, and 7 days after that I would have to pay a £70 court summons fee on top.
That takes my final date to pay the £152 to Boxing Day, 26th December. Don’t you think it is a little strange to send out these reminders with menacing threats days before Christmas? I phoned up and told the Council Tax department that I will pay in January, but the lady was very unhelpful. The £70 fee is almost half of my arrears!
My concerns relate to the fee and the way in which council tax summons are generated. I have read a lot online about this, and I know that the fee for the summons charged by the court is just £3. The Council Tax Enforcement Regulations 1992 allow “reasonable costs” to be recovered by the council, but the additional £67 added on top is very excessive for a couple of computer-generated letters.
Councils typically reply to Freedom of Information requests to say that the Courts Service has approved the £70 fee. But the Courts Service has no judicial role – only the Crown Court could hand down a judgement on whether the £70 fee constituted reasonable costs or not, and the clerks in the Courts Service cannot hand down any such ruling. To my knowledge no one has contested this in Crown Court, because it would cost thousands to do so, but it is claimed by various online sites that councils up and down the land are making £200m a year from such “court summons costs”.
For a start, the £70 is the same in nearly all councils – and yet the recovery costs must vary widely between councils. Secondly, much of the recovery costs are captured by council employees’ wages. Either way, £70 for a couple of letters is very expensive. While the councils do submit the information they have to the court clerks to rubber stamp, they do so in bulk, with thousands of cases being stamped by the court at the same time, making it questionable whether the councils are really incurring £70 a pop. It seems the councils are making an additional £70 off the most financially pressed people in their boroughs, with no real judicial oversight as to the level of costs.
I would like the council to simply agree that I can pay what I owe in the first half of January, with no court summons. Can you ask the revenue department to agree to this?
I haven’t had my summons yet, but I understand it will be sent out after Boxing Day. A nice New Year present to arrive days before I would settle the so-called bill anyway. My concerns also relate to the way in which councils – and not courts – send out these summons to magistrates’ courts. They are actually being computer-generated. You might think that reasonable given that thousands of such letters do go out. But magistrates’ summons are meant to be judicial and not administrative processes. Looking at case law, a court case from 1975 relating to such summons was R. v. Brentford Justices ex parte Catlin, where Lord Chief Justice Widgery stated “a decision by magistrates whether to issue a summons pursuant to information laid involves the exercise of a judicial function, and is not merely administrative.” See All England Law Reports  2 All ER QBD p206-207 (I am attaching a word document with scan-in of those pages from the law reports for you to read).
Lord Chief Justice Widgery was ruling on the affixing of a judge’s signature by rubber stamp – and magistrates’ summons issued by the council are not individually signed by judges, and so a rubber stamp or photocopy is used. He said:
“It is perfectly proper for a signature to be affixed by way of rubber stamp, whether applied by the justice or by a clerk or an employee of the magistrates’ clerk with the authority, general or specific, of the justice, and that conclusion, but for one matter, would be sufficient in my view to dispose of this application, because assuming that an information was indeed laid before the justice whose signature in facsimile form subsequently appeared on the summons then all the applicant’s attack on the subsequent proceedings would fall to the ground straight away and it would not be necessary to consider the other points raised in this application. However in this case it may be that, as the applicant I think wished this court to infer from the document before it, the justice before whom the information was originally laid was not the one whose signature appeared on the summons in facsimile form, and indeed I think the applicant would go further and say that this court should infer in all the circumstances of this case and proceeded on the basis that no information was ever placed before any justice prior to the issue of the summons; the summons was a mere creature of a clerk in the magistrates’ court office. It is not necessary to embark on an examination of that aspect of the matter; indeed this court would be quite unable to do so in view of the material before it, but counsel for the justices conceded certainly that if the summons had come into existence in the manner which I last referred to, namely as a purely administrative operation without any information being laid, then the summons would be bad … before a summons or warrant is issued the information must be laid before a magistrate and he must go through the judicial exercise of deciding whether a summons or warrant ought to be issued or not. If a magistrate authorises the issue of a summons without having applied his mind to the information then he is guilty of dereliction of duty and if in any particular justices’ clerk’s office a practice goes on of summonses being issued without information being laid before the magistrate at all, then a very serious instance of maladministration arises which should have the attention of the authorities without delay”.
These summonses are issued by the council’s computer. It is not credible to believe that a magistrate has reviewed the information before the computer sends out the letter. The court cases are handled in great bulk – thousands at a time, and I believe this is just an administrative summons, with no judicial aspect at all. It may be that magistrates have given images of their signatures to West Lindsey Council for the computer to use to generate summonses, as council tax case summonses are issued by the council, and not by the court, tending to show that there is no real judicial oversight. No magistrate has the legal right to give West Lindsey Council the power to issue summonses without proper adjudication in each case, by a magistrate (and not by the magistrate’s clerk or the council computer system), of whether there is grounds to issue a summons in the first place. While the clerk may affix the signature by rubber stamp, or the computer simply paste in a facsimile of the signature, there must be a real live magistrate reviewing the summons before it is sent out. I do not believe that to be the case.
When people go to court for council-tax cases, they are met at court by council officials, who try to prevent them from seeing the magistrates. While the summons claims to be a magistrate’s summons, it is printed by the council and the council conduct their own court, with no magistrate present, at the magistrates’ court! Court ushers try to persuade anyone who wants to see the magistrate that it will take many hours to see the magistrate, and so it is quicker to go to the ‘court’ being held by council officials!! Court ushers are actually obstructing the judicial process (a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice) and trying to prevent people from seeing the magistrates. Of course this is done because of the huge volume of cases.
To show how this works, I want to give an example from NE Lincolnshire, but it is the same thing for West Lindsey too.
I read of a case by a man who was summonsed over the council tax issued by NE Lincolnshire – 3,359 were summonsed all to arrive at 2pm on June 2nd, 2011! Of course, most didn’t turn up, and those who did were directed into the kangaroo court illegally conducted by council officials, and only 2 people insisted on seeing the magistrate, which they did at 4:30pm that day! You can read about this at the following web link: http://www.crazycouncil.co.uk/forum/council-taxc-issuse/an-afternoon-at-grimsbys-magistrates-court-for-alleged-non-payment-of-council-tax .
So the fact that so many thousands are summonsed at once and that court officials do their best to stop them from seeing the magistrates shows that these summons are purely administrative and not judicial – which is illegal according to Lord Chief Justice Widgery. Also NE Lincolnshire made £174,000 from the £70 costs charged for each person – in just half an hour in court, as 3,359 were dealt with in one fell swoop, most of whom were paying a £70 fee, and only 2 actually seeing the magistrate. Isn’t it obvious that NE Lincolnshire did not incur £174,000 of costs for their 30 minute court hearing (which council officials conducted themselves without magistrates present)?
- Ask if I can pay my bill in January [I don’t recognise the legality of
council tax, given that the Queen broke her Coronation Oath when
she authorised various EU treaties, and that she refused to
respond to the committee of Barons who asked her to restore the
constitution within 40 days, as specified under Magna Carta,
1215, but I will pay as I have no choice].
- Obtain a full breakdown of the £70 court summons fee.
- Find out if a magistrate personally authorises every single summons that the council send out.
- Find out the council’s view on the legal basis of the council impersonating a magistrate’s court in sending out summons.
Thank you and regards,
2. 18 December, her email in reply.
Dear Mr Webb
Thank you for your email which I have now read.
Please let me know the outcome of your visit to the Council Tax Office at the Guildhall in Gainsborough
3. 18 December, my reply.
You have not answered any of the points I made. You probably wish to brush them aside as you are a former magistrate and are a public-sector employee who earns a good salary and a pension from the council tax paid by people who have no pension provision for themselves. I regret the way that councillors all receive salaries now, as it gets them “in” on the system: councillors like you are now uniformly pro-fraud and pro-embezzlement, which is what council tax is. Can you tell me during your time as magistrate, did you personally punish individuals who received administrative summons? [I mean summons sent out by the council computers without judicial oversight]. Or did you point out to the councils during your time as magistrate that it is illegal for the council to send out automated summons pretending they have been reviewed by a magistrate first? During your time as magistrate, did you do anything to prevent council officials from conducting illegal “courts” in court buildings with no magistrates present? Or were you “in on the scam”, viewing your role as magistrate as to let the council do what they want and to do whatever the council told you to do? Did you as magistrate prevent councils from charging fees, misrepresented as court costs, to turn council tax summons into a large illegal revenue stream? We don’t have the rule of law in this country any more, and your response to me on the phone made it clear to me that you are pro-State and in favour of the state’s exactions. I expect you are rather contemptuous of the common law and not interested in opening any issue that would raise questions over your behaviour as magistrate. “Dereliction of duty” in the words of Lord Chief Justice Widgery!