A Day in Court – TV licence session in Weymouth – 19th Sept 2016

Exact verbatim of a TV licence case:

First Act:

The Court Clerk reads a name and a surname and specifies if there is a plea by either saying:

I haven’t heard from him/her.

I have a Guilty plea.

Pleaded Not Guilty.

Then, the Court Clerk reads a summary of the defendant statement. For example, she could say:

“I’m very sorry I missed a payment”

“I thought I had a TV licence”

“I was awaiting a payment card”

“I’ve got brain lesions and MS symptoms”

The complete statement, along with a Statement of Means, is then handed over to the Magistrates (who would glance at it for a couple of seconds – which is not enough to actually read it all).

Second Act:

The TV Licence representative states the date the TV licence officer visited, the duration of the offence and the number of previous conviction. For example:

“Visited 4th July, so the new surcharge applies. Unlicensed less than six months. No previous.”

If there had been previous convictions, he would ask with glee:

“Do you find the case proved, sir?”

And after a perfunctory “yes” from the Magistrate, the TV licence representative would add something along the lines of:

“3 previous, one from this court” (and would give the date of each conviction & value of each fine)

Third Act:

The Magistrates might exchange a few words (or not) quietly, then one of them reads out the sentence.

 “Mr/Mrs…. £220 fine, £30 victim surcharge, £120 cost. 14 Days and a collection order.”


On 4 occasions, the TV licence representative described the crime at the beginning of his spiel:

“The TV was seen in used that day”


All 3 acts unfolds in less than one minute.


In short, here is what I found:

People who were not there were found guilty of crime that was not proven.

Is this due process? Is this justice? The whole process has been dehumanized and “streamlined”, i.e. striped down to the point of becoming a rubber stamping exercise by the Magistrates.

The bottom line appears to be as follow: if someone  has been properly served, and they didn’t come to challenge the conviction, then they must agree with the statement.

These trials paint a tragic picture. Considering the average fine, the majority of cases appears to be of limited means.

TV licence forms (which are the only document with a possible shred of evidence) are not handed to the Magistrates and therefore are not read.

The validity of the TV licence forms and the TV licence rep’s integrity are never questioned:

  • TV licence reps are treated like solicitors despite their lack of a Law degree.
  • The fact that TV licensing is a high-pressure commission-based sales operation is ignored.


The facts:

There was 92 cases (possibly 91 or even 90, I’m unsure because the last few were rushed and the names were foreign.) Only one defendant showed up.

The whole session lasted 80 minutes. It started at 10 Am and finished just before 11:30. There was a short pause towards 11:15

Each case was dealt with within 52 seconds (in reality it’s a little less because one case required a little longer than the others)

76 were found guilty, 4 cases were adjourned to the 31th October, 11 withdrawn and 1 dismissed because the TV rep was not able to provide evidence (the officer who wrote the statement had left)

17 people pleaded guilty.

22 had a previous convictions (1 to 4)

5 defendants mentions of poor health (schizophrenia, mental health, anxiety, MS + brain lesion, sensitive personal issue) as a reason for being behind payments.

The average fine was £197 (plus victim surcharge and costs) but the standard fine was ‘Band A’:   £220 fine + £30 Victim surcharge + 120 costs 14 days collection