Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Council Tax Prison Pensioner

The case of Sylvia Hardy certainly seems to have taken a bizarre turn, with a "Mr Brown" paying her tax on her behalf. However, I wanted to make a few comments about the propriety of the case in the first place.

Firstly, the magistrate was surely right when he said:
"If everyone paid their debts on the basis of what they thought appropriate this country would descend into anarchy."

Of all the laws that it is necessary to obey, I would suggest paying taxes is the most important. Sure, exploit legal loopholes if you want - after all, to a certain extent, the government budgets for that to happen. Yet if we are expecting the government to provide public services on our behalf, then we have to pay for them. It is our civic duty. Would Mrs Hardy complain if the police decided not to protect her home because she hadn't paid them her taxes? I guess she would.

And if we feel the taxes are injurious, then we are free to vote out the party setting the levels of taxation. If there is no party putting that viewpoint across, Mrs Hardy could have stood for election herself. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats offered a local income tax in place of council tax at the election. It's just a shame for Mrs Hardy that not enough people seemed to think they were worthy of government. But that's democracy for you.

That said, she undoubtedly did the right thing in being prepared to go to jail for her protest. If you feel that a law is unjust, and that by highlighting the unjust nature of the law you can actually make a change, then being willing to submit to the penalty is still doing a duty to society. You are showing that you are still bound by the accepted rules of society, whilst making your protest against them as they stand - thus challenging the precepts on which the law was made in the first place.

So the magistrate was right that if everyone could pick and choose which laws to follow, then anarchy would ensue. He was wrong, however, to suggest that copying Mrs Hardy would lead to anarchy - overcrowded and underfunded prisons, maybe, but not anarchy. If all criminals were doing their act purely as a political protest, and willing to face the consequences for their actions, then we would be much safer. Mrs Hardy may have been making a cheap publicity stunt and one which will ultimately lower the standards of debates ("look, it's driving pensioners to go to jail!"). At least, however, she is making a decision that shows some respect for the rule of law.