Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for ten years whilst I was active I retain it now only as a literary device no longer actually using the term JP for any other purpose whatsoever.





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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

TV LICENSING SHOULD BE DECRIMINALISED


It seems, predictable as ever, Boris Johnson has come up with what he thinks might be a last minute inducement to secure more of the "grey" vote which tends to be more conservative than socialist. There is the possibility that over 75s will lose their "free" TV license next summer and he has hinted that he might tell the BBC to fund the freebie if it wants it to continue. With a maximum fine [rarely applied] for TV license evasion of £1000 appearing not to deter evasion by usually the poorest of pensioners he has mused on its abandonment. Last year there were 129,446 prosecutions for TV license evasion all of course in magistrates courts. It is exceedingly difficult to translate that number into meaningful statistics owing to the frequency of court closures undertaken since 2010 when the coalition government came to power.  It seems that 162 of the 323 magistrates courts in England and Wales have shut – a loss of 50.2% of the estate. That translates as the remaining 161 having each 804 defendants annually to deal with or 15 every week in each magistrates court.  It has been suggested that these cases represent about 10% of all cases at the magistrates court. There are about 26 million license payers ie about 0.50% of TV viewers` households have been found guilty of evasion. Along with the vast majority of my former colleagues I was none too happy with the situation. Invariably the poorest and/or recently arrived immigrants seemed to form the bulk of offenders although it was not unusual to discover that a subscription TV service was being paid for when the license was not. Those appearing before us were distressed to discover that that they had committed a criminal offence.  License inquiry agents tended to hold the first person to open the front door of a suspected premises to be the person responsible for the offence. Most members of the public do not know that they were under no obligation to open the door nor allow entrance to their property. I recall a case where that unlucky door opening first person who appeared before me and my colleagues was a visiting American Harvard law graduate who now as a result has a criminal record in the UK.  As a result when my son went to university I advised him not to overlook requiring a license for his flat`s TV and never to open the door to an inquiry agent. 

There is no doubt that it is about time that this offence was decriminalised and offenders were brought before county court. I would go further and agree with the aforementioned Johnson that in keeping with the development of digital entertainment platforms a license funded BBC is an anachronism.  That, however, is a situation outwith the sphere of legal eagles and is a purely political matter for those oh so wise individuals who are so superior in their judgement than we poor mortals; heaven be praised and God save the Queen. 

2 comments:

  1. But isn't it extremely misleading for the public to be told that non-payers are in prison for this offence. I have never in over 30 years heard of such an instance. If they are imprisoned, it is for their failure to comply with other penalties (of increasing severity as each failure arises) imposed for the original offence (usually quite mild community penalties of some description). Or am I wrong?

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    1. You are correct. The rare times when the offender faces custody is owing to he/she failing to comply with the original sentence, usually a fine. If this culpable refusal escalates then custody is the only choice facing a bench.

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