Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 08 Aug 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint about a court fine the complainant received in 2013 for failing to register to vote. This is because the Ombudsman cannot investigate anything that has been considered in court or forms part of legal proceedings. In addition, part of the complaint is late.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Ms X, complains about a fine she received in 2013 for not registering to vote. She also complains about the way the Council is collecting the fine. She says the Council has abused the court system by enforcing a civil matter under criminal proceedings.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the complaint and asked the Council for some information. I considered letters from the court service provided by Ms X and comments she made in reply to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- Ms X says that in 2013 she was fined £1000 by the court for failing to register to vote. Since then she has complained about the action taken to recover the fine. She says she has been arrested, thrown in the cells and assaulted. She says this has affected her health and she is still paying the fine.
- I have seen a letter from the court service from 2017 which says the fine has been correctly administered. The letter also refers to Ms X appealing against her conviction in court and losing the appeal. The court letter says Ms X was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1000.
- Ms X wants the Council to stop the recovery action. She wants compensation for wrongful imprisonment, assault, victimisation and stress.
- The Council told me it is not taking any recovery action against Ms X. The court is responsible for collecting the fine. I have seen an email Ms X sent to a solicitor in June 2019 which refers to the level at which Ms X is paying the fine to the fines office.
- I cannot start an investigation for the following reasons.
- The law says the Ombudsman cannot investigate anything which has formed part of legal proceedings. The court imposed the fine and is responsible for collecting the fine. This means I cannot intervene. In addition, only the police or the courts can arrange for someone to be arrested or imprisoned. This, again, forms part of legal proceedings. If Ms X thinks she is due compensation for assault or wrongful arrest, then that is a matter she would need to pursue in the courts.
- Ms X says the Council has operated outside the law and enforced a civil matter under criminal proceedings. Ms X holds strong views about this but all the issues have been considered in court which means I have no power to start an investigation. In addition, the fine is being collected by the courts service (fines office) not by the Council. And, it is for the court to decide if it has the authority to make a decision about a case bought before it.
- I also will not start an investigation because this is a late complaint. Ms X was fined in 2013 but she did not complain to the Ombudsman until 2019. I have not seen any good reason to accept such a late complaint.
- I cannot start an investigation because the matters have been considered in court and/or form part of legal proceedings. In addition, part of the complaint is late.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman