A senior Leicestershire magistrate was suspended and investigated by one of the country’s highest judicial bodies after he tried to pay a defendant’s fine in court.
Nigel Allcoat, 65, of Burbage, who has since resigned, tried to pay towards the £180 criminal courts charge levied on a penniless asylum seeker who appeared before him at Leicester Magistrates three weeks ago.
Since April, dozens of magistrates across the country have resigned in protest at the court charges, which came into effect in April, after being introduced by the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling. The charges were brought in as a means of ensuring convicted adult offenders paid towards the cost of running the criminal justice system.
Mr Allcoat, a world class musician, said: “What happened in my court three weeks ago in the Magistrates’ Court in Pocklingtons Walk was utterly appalling. It concerned an asylum seeker in his 20s who was ordered in June to pay this charge of £180. He was before me as a fine defaulter. As an asylum seeker his papers and situation is still being considered by our country and the immigration officials. He has a top-up card of £35 a week to purchase necessities in designated stores.”
He added: ” When he first appeared in court in June before another bench, a friend who runs a Leicester food stall, who occasionally fed him, paid a £60 victim surcharge on behalf of the asylum seeker. This was a generous and human act and should be applauded.
“However, before me as a fine defaulter, he was going to be further criminalized for non-payment of the court charge. If he was found with, or earned money, he would also break the law and thus jeopardise his status as an asylum seeker. I was appalled that he should be in such a Catch 22 situation, as which ever way he went he would break the law.”
He added: “As a magistrate, my main aim was to stop re-offending. Therefore, I took money from my pocket in court to pay some of the £180 in a pure humanitarian act to stop him being brought back to court as a fine defaulter again.
“This act brought me suspension and a full enquiry by the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee and I have not sat since that day. Now that my resignation has a long last been accepted I can now speak openly.”
He added: “To be taken to task in such a way for what I considered a humanitarian act beggars belief.