Mags Court Series: More Rules!

Image: Ricardo Gomez Angel/ripato/Unsplash
Image: Ricardo Gomez Angel/ripato/Unsplash

NNDR and Council Tax specific regulations which affect the procedure of the Magistrates’ Court.

Regard must be had in NNDR cases to the provisions of Part III of the Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989. Building on last month’s look at the more general rules affecting the Magistrates’ Court’s civil jurisdiction, this piece takes a more sector specific route to look at those rules which can make (or break) a case when deployed correctly.

Though not the principal focus of this piece, Regulations 11 and 12 are necessary pre-cursors to properly seizing the Magistrates’ Courts of a complaint by the issue of a summons. Obvious though it may sound, checking procedural compliance with the demand and summons procedure can ensure a case isn’t derailed on a technical argument later in proceedings, avoiding unnecessary cost. In Council Tax cases, Regulations 33 and 34 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 are the equivalent provisions.

Regulation 21 of the 1989 Regulations and Regulation 53 of the 1992 Regulations must also be kept in mind. Firstly, it serves to dictate the composition of the tribunal. Whilst a single Justice of the Peace or Justices’ Clerk may issue the summons on receipt of a billing authority’s complaint, a hearing of the summons must be before at least two Justices or a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts).

Secondly, when considering the witness evidence required particularly at trial but equally applicable to bulk hearings, Regulations 21(4) and (5) or 53(4) and (5) are invaluable in ensuring that the number of witnesses in the majority of cases can be both limited and confined to current officers. They serve to expressly permit the production of the billing authority’s records as evidence of the facts stated therein, subject to appropriate certification where the document containing the record is produced by a computer.

Both the 1989 and 1992 Regulations contain provisions which limit the Magistrates’ Courts’ jurisdiction. Being alive to these provisions can avoid protracted proceedings in which ratepayers attempt to run defences which the Magistrates’ Courts cannot determine.

For NNDR cases, Regulation 23(1) or the 1989 Regulations provides that anything which could form the basis of an appeal under Section 55 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 cannot be raised in proceedings before the Magistrates’ Court. The effect of this is that any challenge to the list which could be the subject of a “Check and Challenge” or proceedings before the Valuation Tribunal cannot be a defence to a summons. Where a ratepayer defends a summons on the basis that the rateable value was incorrect or list incorrectly drawn, this provision can be used to avoid the Magistrates’ Court directing the billing authority to waste time and cost engaging with those allegations.

The equivalent for Council Tax is Regulation 57(1) of the 1992 Regulations, which excludes the raising of anything which could be appealed under Section 24 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. This again precludes any challenge based on banding or the dwelling’s valuation. Regulation 57(1) however goes further, also precluding anything appealable under Section 16 of the 1992 Act being raised. The effect of this is to preclude the Magistrates’ Courts from determining whether or not a particular person was liable for Council Tax. This avoids any duplication of what is properly the jurisdiction of the Valuation Tribunal. Once a matter reaches summons stage, unless the ratepayer raises a defence based on deficiencies in the billing process, there is only a very narrow scope for the Magistrates’ Courts to decline to enter the liability order.

Lastly, it is worth highlighting Regulation 36A of the 1992 Regulations. It is a provision specific to Council Tax, without an equivalent in the framework of regulations for NNDR.  It enables the billing authority itself to apply to quash liability orders. Further, it enables liability orders to then be obtained in lesser sums against the persons liable. Particularly where threatened with an application to set aside liability orders for Council Tax, having this provision in mind enables a billing authority to itself pro-actively apply and thus avoid adverse costs consequences of an application which if made by a ratepayer would likely succeed.

Alex Worthington

Greenhalgh Kerr
Olympic House, Beecham Court,
Smithy Brook Rd,
Wigan WN3 6PR

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+44 (0)333 200 5200

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