Unfair, ineffective and unjustifiable: the case for ending imprisonment for Council Tax arrears in England

In this paper, Chris Daw QC sets out his argument for an end to laws allowing for the imprisonment of people with council tax debts in England.

Around 100 people each year are jailed for non-payment. Daw argues that this is damaging to those imprisoned and to wider public trust in the justice system. Those jailed are poor and vulnerable and include women fleeing domestic abuse. Because custodial sentences imposed for non-payment of council tax are a matter of civil, not criminal, law, defendants do not have the right to a jury trial or to legal aid.

Only 10% of those committed between 2011-2017 ended up in prison; meaning the law merely results in high administrative cost (paid for by the taxpayer) and provides limited evidence in its effectiveness in terms of deterrence.

The use of this law is unevenly distributed between councils, with only around 15% of English councils using it; many have abandoned its use while a handful make extensive use of it.

Daw’s sets out how ministers could issue an executive order changing the law and bring England into line with the rest of the UK, where custodial terms for non-payment have been abolished.

About the author: 

Chris Daw QC is a practising barrister, writer and broadcaster on legal issues. Chris Daw QC practises in the fields of criminal law, serious fraud, business regulation and professional discipline. Ranked as a Leading Silk in The Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, Chris appears in many high profile cases. He also advises companies and leading individuals in the worlds of sport, entertainment and business. He tweets at @crimlawuk

Chris is currently filming a 5-part documentary series on the criminal justice system for BBC1, “Justice on Trial”, and has been commissioned to write a book, proposing radical reform of crime and punishment policy, due for publication in the summer of 2020.

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