Magistrate suspended after trying to pay asylum seeker’s court charge resigns over treatment

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.

What’s Wrong With Benefit Sanctions?

Picture this: you’re ten minutes late for a meeting at work. You’re very sorry. You explain to your boss how the bus was on diversion and took half an hour longer than usual. Your boss has no time to discuss it and simply tells you that you won’t get paid this month. That’s it, not a fine, or some kind of reduction, but nothing, no pay, absolutely nothing.

Or this: you’re home based. You’re on flexible hours. Today you had an appointment to check in with the team. But just as you were leaving to go to the office, your daughter’s school called. She’s in the sick room, they say. She isn’t well and the school needs you to fetch her home right away. You phone your office and explain there’s an emergency and head off for the school instead. Next thing you know, your work has written you a letter telling you, you won’t get paid this month: nothing, no pay, absolutely nothing; four weeks without a penny. No investigation; no checking the facts; no phone call to the school to see if your story added up.

Of course, in the UK, today, this would never happen. There are laws to prevent it. If anyone tried to justify anything like this in the workplace, they would be told just how grossly disproportionate a sanction like losing a month’s pay would be. And the idea the punishment could be put into action on a first offence, no yellow card, so to speak, would make it all the more far-fetched. Far-fetched that is, if we are talking workplace and employment.

But foodbanks in the Trussell Trust network deal with this type of situation with welfare recipients every day. A pregnant women who was working part time (less than 16 hours per week) but was ‘not looking for a job hard enough’ and sanctioned and left hungry. A construction worker on a zero hours contract who was sanctioned because he found work that day and had to cancel his appointment. Just two of many examples.

Somehow, the nation has got itself in a place where draconian action like this happens to tens of thousands of citizens without most of the rest of us batting an eyelid! Not when they are in work, but when they are out of it.

And this benefit sanctioning is even sometimes justified by saying it prepares people for the real world of work. How unreal is that. It’s like a parallel universe where the well-honed principles that govern relations between employees and their employers have been ditched in favour of a system that seems to have forgotten justice and proportionality.

I’m left puzzling. Why does behaviour we would think outrageous if it were a business owner trying it, get given the okay when it’s people administering the benefits system that do it? What justifies the rules being so very different?

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