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Thursday, 15 August 2013

TV Licensing Court Observation

North Tyneside Magistrates Court - as frequented by Hagrid's evil twin sister.

An (unofficial) TV Licensing Blog observer recently attended one of the regular TV Licensing sessions at North Tyneside Magistrates Court.

Sadly he's not quite as dedicated to the cause as we are, so we have only just received a copy of his notes from the day. They make fascinating reading nonetheless.

All of TV Licensing's prosecution cases in the Northumbria local justice area (Northumberland and Tyne & Wear) are dealt with by this court, which is situated in the riverside fishing town of North Shields. TV Licensing cases are heard every Thursday, both morning and afternoon sessions.

The session took place on the afternoon of Thursday, 25th July 2013. It started slightly late at 2.25 pm and concluded by 3.15 pm. In the 50 minutes available the court worked at a frenetic pace and dealt with 53 cases.

None of the defendants attended court in person. No-one received a fine anywhere near the £1000 figure often bandied about by TV Licensing. In fact we don't know of anyone at all who has ever received the maximum fine.

Our court observer continues his field report below:

Attending court today was a very strange experience. I have never been anywhere near a court in the past, so the stifling heat combined with nerves of the unknown made me feel quite uncomfortable. Despite being present as a member of the public, I had a decidedly guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I arrived promptly and was greeted by the usher, who was in disbelief that I wanted to view the TV Licensing cases. His words reinforced the idea that the court staff consider TV Licensing cases less worthy of the court's time. "We're not used to people wanting to watch those. Would you not rather watch a criminal court?" said the pleasant silver-haired gentleman. I declined, explaining that I had a special interest in observing the TV Licensing cases only.

Court was delayed by some administrative task or another. I could see the usher through a glass door panel talking to a lady who I'd later discover was the Capita Court Presenter. I could not hear their conversation, but their furtive glances in my direction made me think they were sharing their curiosity about my presence. Just as court was about to begin the usher called me across and showed me to a seat at the rear of the courtroom.

In an unfortunate twist of fate I was seated a split second too late to hear the first name of the Capita Court Presenter, but her surname was Robson. She was dressed in a black trouser suit with a turquoise top underneath her jacket. Think a female version of Harry Potter's Hagrid, with wavy dark grey hair and a soft Yorkshire accent, and you'll not be too far off the mark.

Pleasantries exchanged it was straight down to business, with Hagrid's evil twin sister announcing she had 53 cases for the court's consideration. On this occasion there were only two Magistrates sitting.

The cases were dealt with as follows:

1. Defendant was female. She pleaded guilty to using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 9 weeks. The lady is on benefits.
Outcome: Fine (F) £200; Victim Surcharge (VS) £20; Costs (C) £90.

2. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case be withdrawn.
Outcome: Case withdrawn.

3. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 weeks. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £50; VS £20; C £90.

4. Defendant was male. TV Licensing requested the case be withdrawn.
Outcome: Case withdrawn.

5. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case be withdrawn.
Outcome: Case withdrawn.

6. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

7. Defendant was female. Pleaded guilty to using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 4 months. Lady is a divorced widow in receipt of state pension. She has no previous convictions and the court gives credit for an early guilty plea. In mitigation she tells the court: "My finances are haywire and I simply couldn't afford to pay my licence fee".
Outcome: F £35; VS £20; C £90.

8. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

9. Defendant was female. She pleaded not guilty to using a colour TV receiver without a licence. The court legal advisor reads out her defence argument: "I do not live at the unlicensed property. I just happened to answer the door". The legal advisor suggests that the court should write to the defendant informing her that she is liable for prosecution because she was the one caught. Legal advisor suggests that case is adjourned to allow the court extra time to advise the defendant. Interestingly, it is Capita policy not to pursue prosecution when the defendant is a non-resident of the unlicensed property, but they appear to be making an exception in this case.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

10. Defendant was male. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

11. Defendant was male. Pleaded guilty to using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 4 months. He has no previous convictions and the court gives credit for an early guilty plea. In mitigation he tells the court: "I am finding it hard to cope financially, having just moved into a new home. I have also been involved in a custody battle over my young daughter".
Outcome: F £35; VS £20; C £90.

12. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 weeks. She is a support worker.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

13. Defendant was male. TV Licensing requested the case be withdrawn.
Outcome: Case withdrawn.

14. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 month. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

15. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

16. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 week. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

17. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 week. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

18. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

19. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 weeks. She is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

20. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

21. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is a sales assistant.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

22. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

23. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is a single parent.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

24. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of less than 6 months. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

25. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 weeks. He is a fork lift truck driver.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

26. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 7 months. He is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance.
Outcome: F £82.50; VS £20; C £90.

27. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 week. She is a housewife.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

28. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

29. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 5 months. She is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

30. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 3 months. He is a chef.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

31. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

32. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

33. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 4 months. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

34. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 8 months. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £82.50; VS £20; C £90.

35. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. He is a warehouse operative.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

36. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 6 months. She is a retail assistant.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

37. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 7 months. She is an HR manager.
Outcome: F £300; VS £30; C £90.

38. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 weeks. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

39. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 3 weeks. He is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

40. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 month. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

41. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 5 months. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

42. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 month. She is in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £82.50; VS £20; C £90.

43. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 month. She is a single parent in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

44. Defendant was female. Capita Court Presenter asked that details on the original summons be amended, because it contained a spelling mistake in her name ("Lyndsey" instead of "Lindsay"). Magistrates agree to this. Magistrates ask the legal advisor if the original summons was still valid despite the defendant's name being incorrectly shown. Legal advisor confirms that the original summons was still valid. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. She is a housewife.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

45. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 3 weeks. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

46. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 4 months. She is a domestic assistant.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

47. Defendant was male. He failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 2 months. He is an account director.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

48. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

49. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

50. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned so they could monitor repayments.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

51. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 week. She is a supervisor.
Outcome: F £200; VS £20; C £90.

52. Defendant was female. TV Licensing requested the case to be adjourned as there is a chance she hasn't received the summons.
Outcome: Case adjourned until 10 am on 19th September 2013.

53. Defendant was female. She failed to respond to summons. Admitted using a colour TV receiver without a licence for a period of 1 month. She is in unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
Outcome: F £55; VS £20; C £90.

At the end of the hour I was aghast at how quickly the court had worked. It really was a near-automated process, with none of the cases attracting more than a minute's consideration.

The greatest fine of the afternoon was £300, which was calculated on the basis of the defendant's job and the fact she had been unlicensed for a period of more than 6 months. I would also highlight that in the space of 50 minutes Capita were awarded more than £4000 in costs. Magnify that across all the courts they use and it's not inconceivable they're making a healthy profit at the expense of the vulnerable, infirm and socially-disadvantaged.

The only evidence presented were comments from the completed Record of Interview (TVL178) forms. The Capita Court Presenter gave a quick summary, e.g. "the occupier admitted to the 'officer' that they had used a colour TV without a licence for 6 weeks", and that was good enough for the Magistrates to find the charge proven and pass sentence.

It is a matter of real concern that so much evidential weight is placed on these forms, particularly when Capita employees are incentivised for their completion. Capita TV Licensing goons have to meet strict performance targets of completing one "Code 8" prosecution statement an hour, and can face disciplinary action if they fail to meet that standard.

The one-sidedness of the process left me feeling sick and I'll not be rushing back to see a repeat of that particular circus.

Edit (8/10/13): We have just confirmed that the Capita Court Presenter is called Helen Robson.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I ever get the chance to sit in on any TVL proceedings as a member of the public, I will make a point of asking the Courts whether the manner in which the TV was used has been established, as a confession of using a TV could mean anything - DVD use, catch up TV , games consoles ect, and make a point of informing the Courts that even TVL's rules even allow such activity without a licence.

John Galt said...

Cases 2,4,5 & 13 were withdrawn, but no reason given. Presumably these were ones where the contents of the "TVL178" were disputed?

Shame a bit more info wasn't provided by Capita, but presumably this is why they withdraw the cases, to avoid the bad publicity of allegations of goon misconduct coming before a judge.

The point about Capita / BBC not prosecuting non-residents is one that has been raised before, but on which there is no clarity. It would be interesting to know why they proceeded with this case?

Perhaps their is a dubiousness to the claim (i.e. evidence of residence on voter lists, credit reference agencies, etc.)

Very useful report though, even if it does raise more questions than it answers.

admin said...

One of the "conditions" if you like of sitting in the public gallery is that you're not allowed to disturb proceedings in any way. If you do there's a chance you'll be ejected.

However, once the Magistrates/DJ have risen and the court's no longer in session, I don't suppose there's anything to stop you asking the clerk/Crapita Court Presenter some questions.

Greg Watters said...

Just shows how corporations miss-use the "justice system", all magestrates courts do is process fines etc for companies such as capita. There is not diligence here as this would cut into profits and make the process unmanageable. . Why do we put up with it ....

Theres money in them there costs said...

Have you got what it takes to become a Magistrate?

Questions & Answers

Q1. I've been told I can become a Magistrate without any qualifications or legal training, is this true?

A. Absolutely! As a Magistrate you'll not be required to involve yourself in any aspect of the law.


Q2. I'm worried that my lack of legal knowledge will cause me to make a wrong decision, how can I be reassured that I won't?

A. You will not make wrong decisions. You will be given clear instructions of how you are to determine the case in advance of the hearing. Your job is to appear like you're considering the evidence. You will be effectively playing a role in a theatre production.


Q3. I'm concerned that I may be required to deliver a guilty verdict when the defendant is so obviously innocent. How would I convince attendees in the courtroom that the process is fair and just.

A. As a trainee Magistrate you would have plenty of opportunities to gain experience in this area. You would be assigned a mentor who would accompany you on many cases before you were allowed to go solo.


Q4. I would love to become a Magistrate just to have the JP suffix after my name. But I consider having to sit on serious cases far too big a price to pay for this privilege. What is the most serious trial a Magistrate gets involved in?

A. You will normally only get involved with minor offences which entail bulk processing like TV licences, Council Tax liability orders or in instances where motorists forget to submit details to the DVLA.


Q5. I understand that in all Magistrate court cases the verdict has all ready been determined before the hearing. Why is the charade necessary (the court's involvement) when there is no decision to be made?

A. You are quite correct. It is all a charade, but there are procedures laid down in law which need to be followed. As a Magistrate your function will normally be to attend for "conveyor style" prosecutions, where secondary legislation has been devised for the purpose of processing defendants in bulk – guaranteeing a healthy revenue source from the process.

admin said...

Funny type of spam when there's no link!

Still, it's taken you a while to write it and it's quite interesting, so it can stop!

adee said...

I just attended said court as I was curious as to the outcome of number 9, the visitor one. After being 'grilled' about why I wanted to take notes the session started. By the time the morning session was over, there was no mention of number 9. I can only assume she did not show and as I do not know her name I can't be sure.

I must admit that I am disgusted with the way things went. More so by the prosecution taking the defendant outside of the court to 'advise' on a guilty plea.

Adee

ps, what is a URL for submitting my comment ?

admin said...

Your comment was submitted Adee. It's published above to prove it!