Won’t fight, Won’t Pay! Tax protest against war

Andy Newman

Recently I attended the hearing at Swindon County Court where the Inland Revenue sought to reclaim £550 of unpaid taxes from Robin Brookes, who is refusing to pay that part of his income tax proportionate to the government’s military expenditure.

There were 23 of us there, a similar number to those who attended court in Chippenham last December for the hearing against Swindon pensioner, Doug Barker (shown in the photo with Robin Brookes), who is specifically not paying his taxes as a protest over the Iraq war; whereas Robin and the others of the “Peace Tax Seven” are protesting against all wars.

There is a perennial argument within the anti-war movement about the wisdom of relying mainly on large marches through London – we have been having two or more a year of these big marches, and frequently the activists on the ground outside London groan at the prospect of organising transport for them again, as we face diminishing returns of interest.

But contrast with this non-payment campaign. Doug Barker withheld a few hundreds of pounds tax, and was reported on the front page of the Independent, and in the Daily Telegraph. Withholding a similar amount got Robin Brookes a major page 2 article in the Independent, and a piece on Al Jazeera. So their imaginative individual actions have received almost as much national publicity as 30000 marching through London last month! Imagine what we could achieve with a creative mass campaign of civil disobedience.

Anyway, I don’t know if you have much experience of the courts, but they are deathly dull affairs, involving a lot of waiting around, So fair play to Swindon County Court for livening it up. The security guard, who clearly models himself on Dads’ Army ARP warden William Hodges told the 23 people who had turned up in solidarity that they would not be allowed in to observe proceedings.

He then repeatedly shouted at us in an officious voice, saying us that we could not stand on the grass outside the court building, as it was private property. Obviously we continued to stand on the grass, and were very amused by his threat to call the police, as the court building is directly opposite where the police station was until a few weeks ago, but was just pulled down. So he made the police travel all the way across Swindon to ask us to move off the grass.

When the police arrived they showed absolutely no interest whatsoever on the major crime we were committing of standing on the grass. The look of defeat on the security guards face was priceless. It is always worth standing up to this sort of mindless authoritarianism. (This reminds me of when the security manager in Swindon’s shopping centre (the Brunel centre) threatened to make my life a misery if we didn’t stop leafleting – “what are you going to do”, I asked him “Marry me?”)

To add icing to the cake, the security guard’s humiliation was complete when the court ushers politely agreed that we could attend as an audience after all, and they even moved into a larger court room to accommodate us all.

The Inland Revenue’s lawyer seemed to be a 15 year old on work experience, and pointed out that Robin had no legal case, and the judge must rule against him.

Robin spoke very well, and made the point that whereas the law recognises the right to be a conscientious objector in order to refuse active participation in the armed services, it does not allow conscientious objection to paying for the military. He observed that this is an anachronism, as for example, in the crime of murder it is as bad to pay for someone to be killed as to pull the trigger yourself.

The judge was priceless, and had also clearly modelled his part on old Ealing comedies, as every time he referred to Robin Brookes by name he preceded this by a two second pause while he checked the name in his notes. I could have believed this once, but as he did it about 12 times, it was clearly an affectation. He ruled in the Revenue's favour.

Anyway, both Robin and Doug have said they are prepared to go to prison over the issue, so the campaign continues. In the meantime the Peace tax Seven are pursuing their application for judicial revue in order to provide a right for them not to pay for the military.




April 2006

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