TV licensing relies on confessions of evaders to prove their case. TV licence ‘Officers’, who are no more than pressure salespeople with the most basic training, are sent door to door to inquire about people’s viewing habits, targeting people without a TV licence. Their aim is to get as many forms signed as possible, in order to achieve their targets and get their bonuses. And indeed, every day, forms are filled and signed by who I can only assume are the most vulnerable and the most trusting people in the UK. Because who else would sign a confession of having committed a crime without having talked to a solicitor first?
All criminal prosecutions should be handled by the State and no one else.
The form used by TV licensing (see below) is designed to appear innocuous: it doesn’t have an official title, it doesn’t contain a legal statement and is filed out by the TV licensing representative. The lack of title makes it easy for them to present it as something else, such as an Interview Record, a Proof of Visit, an Agreement to Purchase a Licence and who knows what! Poor hand writing by the TV licence ‘officer’ can add to the confusion in knowing what one is really signing. As these ‘records of interview’ are later be used as the only ‘hard evidence’ of the committing of the crime, they need be clear on the intent of the form and statements contained within. A title, such as ‘Prosecution Statement’, would therefore be a good start. “Self-Incrimination Form’ might be closer to the truth tough.
These forms should also come with appropriate legal warning. As they are, they carry less in them than the terms and conditions for simple software packages on a PC. Before the interview as started, even before names are asked, the TV licence representative should inform the suspected evader about the offence under investigation. They should run through all Rights and Entitlements, making sure that the person they are talking to has had a chance to contact a solicitor. Under aged and people with learning disability, metal health problem or autism should be accompanied by an Appropriate adult. Non-English speakers should be offered the opportunity to have a form in their own language. If this is not possible, an interpreter should be arranged to inform them of the content of the Statement Prosecution they are pressured into signing.
At the start of the interview, people should be clearly informed that ‘Anything that they say may be given in evidence’. At the end of the interview, the interviewer should read back any written statement and give an opportunity to clarify anything and ask if there is anything that should be added. The court process should be explained and how the information obtained will be used and stored. It’s hard to understand how one body, namely the BBC, has been allowed to appoint third parties, such as Capita, to abuse this position for decades, unchallenged. The process used in Magistrate Courts has been streamlined to the point that a case is dealt with in less than a minute. Magistrates courts are simply rubber stamping criminal prosecution. In other cases, driving offenses as an example, the evidence presented comes from law enforcement. However, TV licence offences, which are handled the same way, are based on documents prepared by TV licence representatives. Surely, a statement given to a police officer, reported in a court room by a solicitor offers guarantee of reliability that a statement given to a target driven commission based salesman, reported by another, doesn’t. If there was a greater challenge of the process, the workings would be laid bare to closer scrutiny. And this may lead to questioning the legality of the prosecution for TV licence Fee. It’s distressing that two institutions, the government and the BBC, are engaged in targeting the weaker sections of society by sanctioning this unjust approach.
Proposed New Form (changes are highlighted in red)