Quaker loses tax battle
By Roddy AshworthAN ESSEX Quaker yesterday lost a High Court bid to avoid having to pay taxes to fund UK military activities.Roy Prockter, a member of the “Peace Tax Seven”, asked Mr Justice Collins, sitting in London, for permission to seek a judicial review of a continuing Government refusal to allow them to opt out.
By Roddy Ashworth
AN ESSEX Quaker yesterday lost a High Court bid to avoid having to pay taxes to fund UK military activities.
Roy Prockter, a member of the “Peace Tax Seven”, asked Mr Justice Collins, sitting in London, for permission to seek a judicial review of a continuing Government refusal to allow them to opt out.
But the judge dismissed the group's application, which was backed by 50 supporters, and ruled their case was “bound to fail” in the domestic courts.
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He indicated that their only hope was to take their peace tax battle to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Mr Prockter, 55, from Thorpe-le-Soken, wanted to seek court orders forcing the Treasury to establish a special fund or account so that his money could be spent on peaceful purposes.
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Michael Fordham, appearing for the seven, argued that the Treasury's continuing refusal to set up such an account violated their rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Rejecting the argument, the judge agreed with Treasury lawyers, who said the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg had already decided the issue against conscientious objectors in cases heard in the 1980s.
The judge said: “I am persuaded that if this matter is to be reconsidered it must be reconsidered by Strasbourg.”
But first the legal process had to be exhausted in the domestic courts, and the speediest way to achieve this was for him to refuse the seven leave to seek judicial review.
As well as Mr Prockter, The “Peace Tax Seven” consisted of Joe Jenkins, of Green Street, Hereford; Birgit Vollm, 40, of Oxford Road, Manchester; Simon Heywood, of Herries Road, Sheffield; Sian Cwper, 57, of Llanfrothen, Gwyned; Robin Brookes, 52, of Market Lavington, Wilts; and Brenda Boughton, 80, of Plantation Road, Oxford.
Mr Prockter, a chartered management accountant, has cut down his workload so he can avoid paying taxes altogether rather than be implicit in the funding of military activities.
During the one-day hearing, Mr Fordham said the Treasury had indicated that it respected the views of his clients, but regarded them as “trapped” by the tax system laws.
“They are forced to make an impossible choice between following their conscience or obeying the law,” he said.
The “Peace Tax Seven” had “a deeply-held conscientious objection” to funding military expenditure, and some had been seeking to withhold taxes for military purposes - about 10% of their tax bills - from as far back as the early 1990s and late 1980s.
Mr Fordham said: "I want to emphasise on behalf of my clients that these are individuals who want to pay their taxes in full - but they need help.
“They need an arrangement which accommodates them so that they are able to do so.
“The question is, will the law merely respect them or protect them?”
Outside court Nusrat Chagtai, solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers, said: “Obviously we are disappointed with the outcome, but we are not going to stop here.
“The first thing for us to consider is going to the Court of Appeal to reapply for permission to seek judicial review.
“If we are unsuccessful at that point the next step will be to go to Strasbourg.”
Mr Prockter said last night: “I am disappointed, because I think what we were asking is possible and reasonable, but thinking on the judge's summary - which was quite long and detailed - I think what he has ended up saying is that it's not something the UK courts can actually decide, because of the European Human Rights Act.
“It would have to go to Strasbourg, where they have previously decided against it, although that was 20 years ago.
“We have a couple or three weeks to reflect and think about how we go forward. The seven of us are still quite determined.
“We cannot pay out for people to kill in our name and we think it is very odd the UK courts don't understand that.”