Magistrate resigns after he pays court fine for asylum seeker

A senior magistrate who paid £40 of his own money to pay the court fine for a destitute asylum seeker has resigned his position, after being suspended. Nigel Allcoat, a magistrate for 15 years, said he despaired at the mounting fines and costs being accrued by an asylum seeker at Leicester magistrates court.

“As a magistrate, my job is to prevent more crime, but now the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would have me sent to traitor’s gate,” he said. “But it is something I take very seriously.”

The 65-year-old magistrate said the young man in his twenties had appeared before him in early August having defaulted on his fine, and had to also pay £180 in mandatory court charges.

Mr Allcoat said he had been deeply affected by images of refugees facing riot police in Hungary. “These people have travelled for hundreds of miles to reach us. I wanted to show what British justice meant, to show him the character of this country is actually compassionate.”

The man had £35 on a top-up card to use in specified shops, and was not allowed to take any form of work. A £60 victim surcharge he had owed in June had already been paid by a sympathetic burger stall owner who fed the young man occasionally when he was destitute, Mr Allcoat said.

“What can someone do in that situation, when you tell them they need to find £180 or they will go to prison, but they cannot work?” Mr Allcoat told The Guardian. “They could steal the money? Commit another crime? That would cost the state even more money to have him put in prison.”

Mr Allcoat was suspended pending an inquiry by the lord chancellor’s advisory committee, but resigned so he could speak freely on the issue.

The criminal courts’ charge came into effect in April to ensure convicted adult offenders pay towards the costs of running the criminal justice system. The penalty is in addition to fines, victim surcharges, compensation orders and prosecution costs.

“We were up in arms at this legislation,” Mr Allcoat said. “It is the only fine which is not means-tested. We have to go out there, put on a show, and then it is us who have to deal with all the administration of the fines, and get it in the neck when it doesn’t work.

“It is completely wrong, ill thought through and I hope this small act makes some contribution towards it coming back to haunt those who passed it.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “It is right that convicted adult offenders who use our criminal courts should pay towards the cost of running them. The legislation and guidelines to magistrates and judges make it crystal clear that the charge is separate to the sentence and should not be considered as a mitigating factor.

“Magistrates and judges are aware that they can order offenders to pay in affordable instalments linked to their ability to pay. They do not have to order prompt payment in full.”

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