Solidarity with Tax Resisters in the Courtroom

Rallies outside the courthouse or prison are one way of supporting resisters who are looking at doing time for taking their stand (see The Picket Line for ), supporting their families while they’re being held captive is another (see The Picket Line for ), and accompanying resisters to and from prison and visiting them while inside is a third (see The Picket Line for ).

Another way to support tax resisters as they go up against the legal system is to attend their trials. I remember that when I attended the NWTRCC national gathering in Boston in , one resister there mentioned that when he went to court to be sentenced, the courtroom was packed with supporters who quietly stood up behind him when he stood to hear the judge pass sentence, and he told us how important that show of support had been to him.

Today I’ll give some additional examples.

Rebecca Riots

In the government finally managed to get its hands on some prosecutable suspects involved in the Welsh “Rebecca Riots” (which largely involved dismantling offensive tollbooths).

The prisoners, under strong guard, were marched to a hearing before a set of magistrates. “Vast crowds accompanied them, and in expectation of hearing the examination, rushed into the large hall, which in a few minutes was crammed.” The magistrates responded by banning the public — and even the prisoners’ attorneys — from the room.

Council tax rebels

Council tax refusers in today’s Britain can often count on packing the courtroom with sympathizers if they are summoned. In the case of retired vicar Alfred Ridley:

[H]is supporters, who had packed the courtroom, cried “Shame!” “It’s a disgrace!” and “Kangaroo court!” …

Mr Woollett [the magistrate] had to be escorted from the court complex by police after he was surrounded by booing protesters.

One supporter said: “People have come here from as far away as Sheffield, Blackpool and Cornwall to support Mr Ridley.”

When Sylvia Hardy, 73, was sentenced to jail time for refusing to pay her council tax, the courtroom erupted:

As Ms Hardy, from Barrack Road, Exeter, was led away the chairman of Devon Pensioners’ Action Forum, Albert Venison, shouted at the bench: “You are on a completely different planet you people.” There were other shouts of “pompous ass” and “shame” from other supporters of Ms Hardy who were packed into the small courtroom.

The British women’s suffrage movement

When Janet Legate Bunten was taken to court for refusing to pay a dog license tax, the number of supporters who rallied to her side alarmed the court. One wrote:

The element of comedy was supplied… [in part] by the alarm created at the arrival of the W.S.P.U. dray and reinforcements. The court was twenty minutes late in taking its seat, and it was freely rumoured that the reason of the delay was that more police were sent for to be in attendance before the proceedings began! There certainly was an unusual number present for so insignificant a court. A meeting was held outside the court, at which Miss [C. Nina] Boyle spoke. The police not only allowed the demonstration, but were interested listeners.

When Winifred Patch was subjected to bankruptcy proceedings by the Inland Revenue Department, “[t]he officials were astonished to see women bringing in extra benches and overflowing into the solicitors’ seats and the Press pen.” Patch refused to cooperate in any way with the court, and a second hearing was scheduled, at which “[t]he crowd of suffragist sympathisers was far larger than on the previous occasion” and included many of the more prominent members of the Women’s Tax Resistance League.

War tax resisters

When Vietnam War-era war tax resister Jack Malinowski was sentenced to three months of probation for his tax refusal, “[a] crowd of [approximately 175] supporters in the courtroom greeted the sentencing with a chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’ and jubilant applause.”