TV licence fee evasion makes up one in ten UK court cases - surely there's a better way

The licence fee is the best way to finance the BBC - but the high number of cases taken to court shows our criminal justice system is grossly inefficient

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The Independent Online

I am a supporter of the BBC. It is the worst way of organising broadcasting apart from all the others, even as the population is migrating, like Arctic terns, to iPlayer and YouTube. And I am all for enforcing the law, whether it's a law that right-on bloggers don't like, such as that on cannabis, the stealing of intelligence secrets or TV licences, or one that they do like, such as that on fox-hunting. 

However, when one in ten of all criminal prosecutions is for TV licence evasion, this is further evidence that our criminal justice system is grossly inefficient. This is worse, even, than Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce having to turn up in person at some court or other umpteen times just to confirm their names and addresses or to be told some procedural information that could have been conveyed by text message.

This is 180,000 people a year appearing in front of magistrates and 155,000 of them having to pay for a licence and a fine for not having one in the first place. 

The obvious response is that this is a stupid way of financing the BBC, and, if you are Guido Fawkes, it is a stupid way of financing the BBC with libertarian knobs on: "The TV poll tax is a protection racket pure and simple." 

Well, Guido doesn't like the BBC. But there are lots of people who do like the BBC who are tempted to agree with him. Surely there must be a better way to finance the Corporation, they mutter weakly? No, there isn't. Like the BBC itself, the licence fee is the worst way of financing the BBC apart from any other way. What do you suggest? A levy on broadband subscriptions? 

No, we are stuck with the licence fee for a while yet. And while we are, the law is the law is the law. However, the sheer volume of TV licence prosecutions is surely - like procedural court hearings - ripe for industrialisation. If a business had this number of customers repeating essentially the same transaction, it would simplify it and make it easy for the business and the customer. 

Why can TV Licensing not claim the licence fee and a spot fine on the doorstep?