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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Internal Review Request on TV Licensing Withdrawn Cases

Last week the BBC refused to reveal the percentage of people summoned to court for TV licence evasion that had their cases withdrawn before trial.

They don't want people to know because that percentage is actually quite large - e.g. TV Licensing summons people to court to scare them into compliance, when they have no real intention of pursuing the case. Either that or TV Licensing summons people to court when they have little confidence in their prosecution evidence. Why else would they withdraw so many cases at the final hour before they are scrutinised closely by the court?

Sadly, getting the BBC to admit embarrassing facts is never straightforward, so we've had to send them yet another internal review request.

It reads as follows:
Dear FOI Enquiries,

Please note my request for an internal review of RFI20120137.

It is unfortunate that I am requesting yet another internal review, but I am consistently finding the BBC's responses fall short of the standard required by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Indeed, contrary to the legal requirements of the 2000 Act, I am beginning to think that refusal is the BBC's default option whenever there is the slightest chance they'll be embarrassed by providing a complete response - an observation I have already drawn to the attention of the Information Commissioner.

The basis of my review request is that the BBC has incorrectly applied the s.31 exemptions of the 2000 Act when compiling their response to RFI20120137. That being the case the BBC should have given a full and complete response to question 2 raised in my initial request.

I believe the s.31 exemptions have been applied incorrectly for three main reasons:

1. By the time TV Licensing has the opportunity to withdraw the case against an alleged licence fee evader summonsed to court, they are already well into the prosecution process and expecting to attend court. Releasing the percentage figures requested is not going to change that fact, as anyone summonsed to court has no way of knowing TV Licensing’s true intent to follow through with the prosecution process.

2. The BBC Trust, in their “Review of Licence Fee Collection” dated March 2009, set a precedent by releasing very similar information to that requested in RFI20120137. Paragraph 186 of the Trust’s Review gives tabulated information showing the number of “Evaders Caught”, “Cases Heard” and “Convictions” in each of the years 2002/03 to 2007/08. It is a reasonable assumption that a significant proportion of “Evaders Caught” are summonsed to court for offences under s.363 of the Communications Act 2003. It is also quite clear from the Trust’s figures that considerably fewer than half of the “Evaders Caught” actually have their cases heard in court, with only about three quarters of those being convicted. Given the Trust’s willingness to release this information only a few years ago, I consider it unreasonable that the BBC’s Information Policy & Compliance Team, which is much further down the BBC pecking order, has decided to refuse my similar request for information now.

3. The public has a right to know if TV Licensing is placing an excessive burden on the court system by summonsing a much larger number of suspected licence fee evaders than they intend to pursue to conviction. If excessive numbers are being summonsed it could be an indication that TV Licensing lack confidence in their prosecution evidence, which they wish to avoid being scrutinised in the full gaze of the court. It could also be argued that TV Licensing view summonsing people to court as just another tactic to coerce fee payment from suspected licence fee evaders, when they have no real intention of pursuing the case. That would be a clear abuse of the legal process.

In writing this review request I am also very mindful of the fact that the BBC has demonstrably provided several misleading and substandard responses to my previous requests for information. I hope the BBC will carefully consider the obvious conclusions people (including the media) will draw if they persist in their obstructive refusal to respond in full to RFI20120137.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Jones
I don't think they'll like that, but it will leave them with little option but to respond in full.

We shall see.

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