Criminal damage, theft, possession of drugs and TV licence evasion.
Can you spot the odd one out?
Given the subject of the TV Licensing Blog it's bound to be TV licence evasion, but do you know the reason why?
Well done if you spotted that the first three offences are commonly dealt with by way of a conditional discharge. For whatever reason the judiciary deems TV licence evasion, an offence with no victim whatsoever, more punishable than the likes of criminal damage and assault, where the victim is quite evident.
Great news earlier this week that the Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines, which advise Magistrates' Courts in England and Wales how to pass sentence, will be updated in April to include the option of imposing a conditional discharge on anyone convicted of TV licence evasion.
Currently anyone convicted of TV licence evasion faces a fine of around half their relevant weekly income, which normally equates to somewhere in the region of £100. Repeat or long term offenders face a greater fine, but even then it is unlikely to be more than about £200. The theoretical maximum fine for TV licence evasion is £1,000, which TV Licensing mentions a lot for deterrent purposes.
In addition to the fine, the court normally orders the defendant to make a contribution towards TV Licensing's prosecution costs. TV Licensing makes an application for costs in every case, but the court can refuse or award a smaller sum.
From the end of April the minimum suggested penalty for TV licence evasion will be a conditional discharge. This penalty is likely to be used in the case of short term, first time or accidental offenders or those on low incomes.
Philip Davies, the plain speaking Conservative MP for Shipley, said: "There is a growing unhappiness about the licence fee and being forced to pay for something whether they want it or not."
He continued: "This is a further nail in the coffin of the licence fee, because the more it becomes unenforceable, the more the BBC will have to find another method of funding."
Andrew Bridgen, a fellow Conservative MP that campaigns against the TV licence fee, said: "If someone cannot afford to pay the £145.50 licence then they are highly unlikely to be in a position to pay a £1,000 fine. People are being criminalised where their only crime is being poor and this needs to stop."
The relaxation of penalties is a welcome move and one which the Magistrates' Association has been seeking for many years. With any luck it signifies a step closer to decriminalisation of this most trivial and unjust of offences.
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