I appeared at Reading Magistrates Court on Monday 14th May, to plead ‘not-guilty’ to the charge of not sending in a completed census. To be clear, whilst I am guilty of not submitting the census - I have been compliant in my openness about my non-compliance - my ‘not-guilty’ plea is about the appropriateness of it being a criminal offence.
My initial opposition was the Lockheed Martin link. However, as I looked in more detail at the questions it became obvious that:
1) Many of the answers are already available elsewhere. The Oxfordshire Observatory updates its statistics on residents every quarter, and the Office of National Statistics is just one of a number of sources.
2) My experience as a City and County councillor suggests, particularly when money is tight, it is almost irrelevant where/what the need is: schools and hospitals will not be provided, they will be cut. ‘Need’ is easily redefined.
3) A number of the questions were totally subjective in their content eg ‘How healthy were you in the last 6 months’; or bear no relevance to service provision e.g. your ethnicity/national identity.
I was given time to put my case. I was asked by the prosecution how I knew that the data wouldn’t be used to provide services and suggested that it was for him to show me it was; that I had plenty of evidence for service cuts or stagnation. I also reminded him that it had been publicly acknowledged (by Francis Maude MP and Sir Michael Scholar of the National Statistics Authority) that the paper Census was costly and inefficient and that 2011 would probably see the last one.
I rested my case on the fallacy behind the suggestion that Census completion is so important it overrides articles 8 and 9 of the Human Rights Act.
The magistrate was extremely fair and even sympathetic. In her summing-up she referred to my non-compliance as ‘standing up and being counted in a different way’. But ultimately she felt obliged to rule by the letter of the law which states that a fine may be incurred for non-completion and return of the census.
I am minded not to pay (£150 fine + £150 costs + £15 victim support fund).
Deborah Glass Woodin