Friday, July 05, 2013

Merseyside Anti-Poverty Activists Contest Council Tax Summons

A group of around thirty anti-poverty activists visited Liverpool Magistrates Court on Friday afternoon, as Liverpool Council attempted to process more than two thousand council tax liability orders. The court fees initially amounted to £40, meaning people already drowning in debt being squeezed for a combined total running into the tens of thousands. The campaigners' explicit aim was to offer legal guidance for the many people who had none at all. However, amidst heavy G4S security and police repression on the one hand, and sheer weight of numbers on the other, it is difficult to assess how successful they were.

A similar action at South Sefton Magistrates Court in mid-June had been deemed a triumph, with many people seeing their cases adjourned, and one eviction being suspended, so hopes were high for a similar story this time around.

The group gathered at 1 pm, just before the cases were due to be heard. They all passed an initially startled security team, with the exception of one woman who was refused entry for calling one guard a "pain in the arse" when he provocatively made her empty her bag.

From there the activists moved into the lobby of court five, where the council tax claims were due to be heard. The scene quickly became chaotic, with activists shuffling backwards and forwards to greet debtors, security trying to prevent them, and a couple of severely overstretched police joining in. A cat and mouse atmosphere soon developed, though many people were very grateful to get both advice and solidarity. It was this which most annoyed the court staff, G4S and the police. It was this which made it difficult for them to dismiss the unwelcome guests as troublemakers and have them ejected. After all, a courthouse is a public building.

A limit of four observers per case was set by the court usher, who soon began to arbitrarily deny entry to this or that campaigner. When pressed, it became apparent they did not know under which law they were supposedly operating, but that accounted for little against the hired muscle of G4S and the police, who formed a wall blocking the courtroom door. Dissent against these could easily be perceived as criminal, meaning a high likelihood of arrest.

The situation became even more bizarre for those who got inside court. One observer was excluded for being "political", one for coughing, and another one because "anyway your phone came on a bit too quick" between cases. Finally, the entire group was labelled "disruptive", and the remaining people before the court were therefore denied their democratic right to have witnesses and McKenzie friends present.

As the man with the cough commented on an internet forum:
"After attending the C/T summons in Liverpool ive never seen such a disgusting process from plastic muppets who assume they have some sort of right (in law) to use heavy handed tactics in trying to remove me from Court, The Magistrate was a snivelling employee of Liverpool Council who couldnt wait to rubber stamp 2440 summons. GET HIM OUT (i hear after coughing too loud) lol ur a paid member of staff lady was my reply.......illegal actions portrayed as legal by a wig wearer . god help those in Liverpool is my only conclusion, Heartless liers parading as the Law."
The general tactics employed by the campaigners have a good track record, and was particularly successful during the Poll Tax. However, in order for this to work, there need to be more activists in attendance, and all of them need to be up on the legal technicalities. Those in attendance were predominantly from Dingle anti-Bedroom Tax group, and the Reclaim Bootle campaign. There are many, many more from around the region who would have made it if they had known, but the information was not circulated on the left, never mind throughout communities. Similarly, the legal technicalities were known to only a relatively small percentage, leaving others sitting around or even standing around outside.

This isn't a game. This is literally a life and death issue for many people. The potential for community-based radical action could hardly be higher. But by its cliqueism and control freakery, the left is serving to sabotage this process, instead of facilitating it.
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