The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

My Photo
Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Job We Should Not Be Doing At All

Every so often on our private prosecutions day we deal with a pile of summonses for having no Television Licence. Since something like 98% of properties have a TV installed the authorities simply check on any postcode where there is no licence. The vast majority of the defendants do not turn up, so the prosecutor will usually apply to prove his case in their absence. So long as the evidential statements are in order and have been properly served we will almost certainly convict the offender and fine them. A licence costs a little over £100 so a standard fine will be in that region plus costs in the region of £40. It is not popular work with magistrates, having a nasty taste of rubber-stamp justice to it. Those who plead guilty by post are rewarded with a credit of about a third off the fine, with a possible further reduction still if they give us details of a very low income (usually state benefits). Just a handful of defendants will turn up at court - nearly all of them women, nearly all of them poor. When you are living on about £120 a week and trying to bring up a child the cost of a licence can look enormous. What many of us would routinely spend on a dinner out for four can be impossible for a single mother to find. Of course there are a lot of instalment-type arrangements that can be made, but many harassed people do not get round to it. In such cases a sympathetic bench will push the fine as low as they dare, and trim the costs as well.

We are told that the BBC will continue to get its licence fee for the next ten years. I think that enforcement should be taken out of the criminal courts and enforced by civil means, just like gas and electricity bills, parking tickets, and other debts.

And whenever I read that the BBC (which I admire in many ways) has just sent hordes of well-paid and expensed people to cover some trivial event, or has spent a third of a million quid on a management weekend to 'motivate' its people I want to yell at the screen: "Don't you realise where that money has come from?" The BBC spends a disproportionate amount of its cash on minority channels such as Radio 3, BBC 3 and 4, that predominantly benefit the better off classes, but are paid for by rich and poor alike.