Just watching the Ashes this morning and it's clear that, at least on this occasion, England has played a good game.
Another organisation, albeit considerably less desirable than the England cricket team, that knows how to play a good game is TV Licensing.
TV Licensing is the name used by companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of the TV licence fee and enforcement of the TV licence system. Capita Business Services Ltd, the TV Licensing operations contractor, undertakes the majority of enforcement work, which includes the prosecution of alleged TV licence evaders.
A TV licence is required for all properties where equipment is installed or used to receive TV programme services (e.g. any TV programme at the same time, or virtually the same time, as it is received by other members of the public).
Any property that falls outwith those circumstances does not legally require a TV licence and the occupants have no legal obligation to TV Licensing. Despite that unequivocal fact of law, TV Licensing will make it its business to harass the occupiers of any unlicensed property until they have justified its unlicensed status.
It is for that reason that TV Licensing is so widely despised - it assumes guilt when there is no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing; it expects law-abiding individuals to do its work and prove their innocence.
As Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan tweeted earlier today: "TV Licensing doesn't really believe that anyone doesn't own a television. Not that this justifies its vile rudeness."
For some reason Hannan has since deleted that tweet, but a screenshot appears below:
We have described TV Licensing's menacing enquiries on numerous occasions, so shan't dwell on them too much today. We have also explained how TV Licensing employees face basic performance targets that are virtually impossible to achieve by approved methods.
The primary focus of today's post is the highlight some ways TV Licensing plays the English & Welsh court system once it has decided to pursue a prosecution:
1. Delaying prosecution.
TV Licensing often puts alleged TV licence evaders at a disadvantage by delaying their court summons until the last minute.
Under section 127(1) of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 the court can only issue a summons if the prosecution lays information within 6 months of the commission of the alleged offence.
This means TV Licensing has 6 months from the date the TVL178 Record of Interview form is completed to notify the court of its intention to prosecute an alleged TV licence evader. If it misses the 6 month deadline, then the prosecution cannot proceed.
It is accepted good practice that the prosecution should lay information before the court as promptly as possible, but TV Licensing frequently lays information at the last moment. We are aware of several cases where TV Licensing has laid information less than a week before the deadline expired.
In our opinion, which has been denied by the BBC, TV Licensing deliberately uses delaying tactics to disadvantage the defendant. With the passage of time it is less likely the defendant will remember the finer details of their interaction with TV Licensing at the time it gathered "evidence" of their alleged offence.
If TV Licensing were to lay information promptly before the court, it is far more likely the defendant would be confident to challenge any discrepancies in its prosecution case.
2. Court bombardment.
Court is like a "sausage factory" to TV Licensing. In the space of an hour TV Licensing throws literally dozens of cases at the Magistrates for what is sometimes tantamount to a rubber-stamping exercise.
TV Licensing is fully aware that it holds the upper hand in court and will sometimes attempt to slide dubious cases under the noses of the Magistrates who, by this stage, are dispensing "justice" almost on autopilot.
3. Summarising prosecution cases.
In the absence of a defence the Capita Court Presenter, who acts as TV Licensing's prosecutor in court, will often ask the Magistrates if they can summarise the main "facts" of the case.
This means that the court will often only consider what they are told by the Capita Court Presenter, which may or may not be a complete and accurate account.
Sadly, the way court works, it is not the Magistrates' role to question the accuracy or validity of TV Licensing's evidence. That is the job of the defence, assuming there is one.
4. No defence offered.
In the absence of any defence, the court has no option but to consider TV Licensing's evidence and accept it at face value. In these cases the defendant will be found guilty of TV licence evasion by default, whether or not they actually are. Having attended numerous TV Licensing court sessions, we estimate that well over three-quarters of cases end this way.
For this reason it is crucially important that the defendant attends court to present their side of the story. Even if the defendant only attends to plead guilty, their presence means the court will consider matters more carefully than it otherwise would. They will also be in a far better position to offer mitigation before the court imposes any penalty.
Whenever possible we would encourage a defendant to plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty forces TV Licensing to prove its case, which it will not always be able to do. Quite often TV Licensing gets jitters at the prospect of having its evidence tested in court. It is not unusual for TV Licensing to withdraw the prosecution at the last moment, rather than have the weaknesses in its case exposed in public.
4. Strategic abandonment.
Occasionally TV Licensing runs into difficulty during the prosecution of an alleged TV licence evader.
It might be that the defendant pleads not guilty on a technicality, raises concern about the manner in which TV Licensing gathered its "evidence" or questions the validity (or even authenticity) of the "evidence" presented.
TV Licensing wants to avoid embarrassing publicity at all costs. It fears having its "magic" discredited or employees exposed as charlatans in court. For that reason, TV Licensing will always find an excuse to withdraw a prosecution if the going gets tough.
TV Licensing is very happy to stiff a defendant on the flimsiest of evidence, but as soon as the wheels are turned it runs as fast as possible.
It is a sad fact that when TV Licensing withdraws a prosecution no-one is interested in its reasons for doing so. The defendant is therefore deprived of his/her opportunity to hold TV Licensing to account for any malpractice.