A former vicar emerged triumphant in his bid to overturn a charge of £125 for failing to pay council tax.
The Reverend Paul Nicolson, 82, of Campbell Road, in Tottenham, was ordered to pay Haringey Borough Council's costs by Tottenham Magistrates when he refused to pay his council tax in protest at changes to benefits.
He challenged the costs in the High Court, comparing them to lower legal fees levied by neighbouring Enfield Borough Council.
At the Royal Court of Justice today, Justice Geraldine Andrews ruled the charge “unlawful”.
She said Tottenham Magistrates had not had “sufficient relevant information” to “reach a proper judicial determination of whether the costs claimed represent costs reasonably incurred by council.”
The justice also instructed the council to pay Mr Nicolson’s costs.
Following the verdict, the retired clergyman said he was delighted with the outcome on his case, and hopes it is the first step in reducing the summons costs.
He said: “We got what we needed today. The residents of Haringey and further afield in England and Wales can be very grateful to Helen Mountfield QC and Eloise Le Santo and the team at Matrix Chambers for taking on this case free of charge.”
The Rev Nicolson has now called for external auditors Grant Thornton to look into the £125 charge, which has been increased from £95.
He said; “Exercising my right as a resident of Haringey I have asked Grant Thornton the external auditors of Haringey’s accounts to produce a report in the public interest about the £125 level of costs the council asked the magistrates to agree."
Last week, the court heard that the Rev Nicolson believed the purpose of the legal costs “may have been to deter non-payment rather than simply to cover the costs of the hearing.”
Ms Mountfield QC added: “In the interests of transparency, they should be able to provide a breakdown on request of how these costs were reached.”
Josephine Henderson, representing Haringey Council, argued in her case outline that the decision by the magistrates to award £125 costs “was not irrational or unreasonable.”
In representations to the court, she added that the sum claimed related to costs reasonably incurred, and that the level of scrutiny by the magistrates was “proportionate”.
Rev Nicolson added: “As the judge said, the battle against the council is for another day but there are many people in Haringey who cannot afford to pay this additional cost.”
Tottenham Magistrates are yet to comment.
A Haringey Council spokesman said: “We accept the court’s decision to quash the costs order in this case as magistrates did not have the relevant information before them.
“We welcome that the judge accepted our broad approach to calculating costs to cover legal proceedings. We will now consider this ruling in greater detail.”