Over the last five years no-one in Scotland has been imprisoned over their non-payment of the TV licence, compared to dozens in England and Wales.
That imbalance in justice has led to further calls to decriminalise TV licence evasion, according to a recent article in the Daily Mail.
Under current legislation a TV licence is required for any property where equipment is installed or used to receive TV programmes at the same time as they are broadcast to other members of the public.
The legislation applies across the whole of the UK, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, however, the system of enforcement differs greatly in each of those unique legal jurisdictions. These differences are summarised in the table below:
Note, in particular, that the maximum penalty for TV licence evasion is a fine of £1,000 in the UK and Northern Ireland. The figure, often bandied about as a deterrent by TV Licensing's massed army of PR harlots, is never imposed in practise, with the average fine being somewhere in the region of £100.
Contrary to the inference in the Daily Mail article, a person cannot be imprisoned for TV licence evasion. A person can be imprisoned if they default on any fine imposed by the court, which is a totally separate offence to the original matter. Ignoring the penalty of the court is obviously far more severe than TV licence evasion itself, which is reflected in its imprisonable status.
Imprisonment for non-payment of fines is exceptionally rare. In our experience, the court will always endeavour to make fine payment terms as convenient and manageable as possible. The courts generally recognise that it is not in the public interest to imprison a person, at considerable expense to the public purse, for defaulting on a relatively small fine that was imposed for a trivial offence.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, a leading opponent of the TV licence fee, said: "In England and Wales there are 180,000 prosecutions a year for failing to pay the licence fee, and dozens of people are jailed each year.
"In Scotland, there were 32 prosecutions in the courts and no one went to jail. Yet we have not seen evasion go through the roof, as the BBC claims it would. It is a myth that it would happen if we had decriminalisation."
The majority of TV licence evasion cases in Scotland are dealt with by way of fiscal fines, which does not require a court hearing. Recent reforms to Scots law also mean that no-one is imprisoned for defaulting on a fine of less than £500, which is well above the amount typically imposed for TV licence evasion.
Earlier this week it was reported that the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, had raised concerns with Cabinet colleagues about the burden placed on criminal courts by having to deal with TV licence evasion cases.
The Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale MP, is currently considering the future shape of the BBC when its Royal Charter comes up for renewal on 31st December 2016.
Decriminalisation of TV licence fee evasion remains a hot topic of discussion.