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Unlawful TV Licence Enforcement

edited 15 July 2018 at 3:12PM in Campaigns Corner
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CornucopiaCornucopia Forumite
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edited 15 July 2018 at 3:12PM in Campaigns Corner
Many FMs will be aware that I don't have/need a TV Licence. In fact, I've been in that situation for a number of years, and during that period have gained a lot of information and knowledge about the TV Licence, TV Licensing and the legal context for enforcement and prosecution.

One slight disclaimer is that I've always used legal strategies against TV Licensing, and have consequently never had a doorstep visit from TVL, and for most of my legally-Licence free time, I haven't received enforcement letters either. However, I know from BBC information that they make around 4 million attempted visits each year. Around 90 million letters are sent, of which about half are thought to be for the purpose of enforcement.

In February this year, I wrote the most recent of a series of letters to the BBC's Head of Revenue Management - the woman who effectively runs the TV Licensing operation through an outsource arrangement with Capita. I received no response. I sent a reminder in April and asked my MP to petition the BBC for a response. Still nothing. So, this weekend I am drafting a complaint to Lord Hall about this mishandling of my complaint.

The nature of my complaint was that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (including its case law) lays down certain conditions that apply to Public Authorities who seek to interfere with the privacy/home life of members of the Public. In particular, it requires that any intervention must be enabled by legislation (or similar official authority) and that the Public Authority must take reasonable steps to ensure that affected members of the Public understand the laws that are being applied to them, together with ensuring that the implementation of processes based on the law(s) is reasonably proof against arbitrariness.

The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that any interference with privacy is properly authorised and fairly implemented. Many people have observed that this does not seem to be the case with TV Licensing, and these legal arguments suggest that that is true, and provide as sound a legal basis for that opinion as a non-lawyer could reasonably muster.

My suggestion to the BBC is that there is no legislation that empowers their TVL investigatory process (they have previously refused to supply me with whatever information they hold) - this would make their process unlawful to the extent that it interferes with people's privacy in their homes. If there is legislation, they need to ensure that the Public is aware of it, and the legislation itself must be explicit and specific in connecting the legal requirement and the enforcement process. Since the BBC does not do this, their process is unlawful.

I think that the BBC have been given every chance to address these issues (and I think any reasonably well-informed person would know that we do not have "secret laws" in this country).

Against that background I am going to try to get the Media involved. (They have traditionally been resistant to getting too close to TV Licensing presumably for fear of being seen to condone law-breaking).
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  • edited 15 July 2018 at 12:11AM
    silverwhistlesilverwhistle Forumite
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    edited 15 July 2018 at 12:11AM
    Thanks. I'm slightly different in that although I've never had a colour TV they don't know my name as I prefer it that way, they don't need to know and not least in that I can immediately identify junk mail and deal with itappropriately.

    Last week I had the fourth letter with a little exposed window: "Will you be in on the nth July?". Probably; like the three previous dates when no visits took place. Is this letter designed to induce fear or embarrassment? It's certainly not for any mutual convenience.

    That would seem to be a potential breach of Article 8, if minor. I'm quite prepared to answer the door and politely tell them to their face that I do not possess a TV (or use their iplayer). Beyond that I do not wish to engage, and it would be handy to have a convenient legal response to their bluster.
  • antrobusantrobus Forumite
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    Cornucopia wrote: »
    ...

    The nature of my complaint was that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act lays down certain conditions that apply to Public Authorities who seek to interfere with the privacy/home life of members of the Public. In particular, it requires that any intervention must be enabled by legislation (or similar official authority) ..,

    This is Article 8;

    Right to respect for private and family life

    1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

    2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the
    exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1

    I see no requirement "that any intervention must be enabled by legislation (or similar official authority)".

    Cornucopia wrote: »
    ...
    and that the Public Authority must take reasonable steps to ensure that affected members of the Public understand the laws that are being applied to them, together with ensuring that the implementation of processes based on the law(s) is reasonably proof against arbitrariness.

    I can't see any mention of that.
  • edited 15 July 2018 at 7:59AM
    CornucopiaCornucopia Forumite
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    edited 15 July 2018 at 7:59AM
    Last week I had the fourth letter with a little exposed window: "Will you be in on the nth July?". Probably; like the three previous dates when no visits took place. Is this letter designed to induce fear or embarrassment? It's certainly not for any mutual convenience.

    That would seem to be a potential breach of Article 8, if minor. I'm quite prepared to answer the door and politely tell them to their face that I do not possess a TV (or use their iplayer). Beyond that I do not wish to engage, and it would be handy to have a convenient legal response to their bluster.

    My main concern is the entry to people's homes by TVL staff in itself - it is that which I believe is the main issue for Article 8. However, as we all know, that process of entry to premises is supported by all manner of bluster, coercion and outright threat, some of which is official (in the sense of being TVL policy) and some is a consequence of TVL staff "taking the initiative". There may also be an element of Capita taking the initiative, too. In legal terms, the BBC is responsible for all of this, IMHO. Rogue staff should not be allowed to create additional breaches of Human Rights by being inadequately trained or supervised.

    All of this contributes to my view on the basis that if an Authority is lying or threatening over a Human Rights issue, then they are by definition not being transparent or seeking informed consent (assuming that that is a relevant consideration - it certainly is for PACE, but not sure about HRA).

    The letter windows go back years. They are, as you say, put there with the intention of creating fear and embarrassment, and as such must surely be part of that process of undermining transparency in the process.
    Beyond that I do not wish to engage, and it would be handy to have a convenient legal response to their bluster.
    Aside from practical steps like closing the front door, one of the most powerful legal devices you can use with them is to formally decline to be interviewed. This is an absolute right under PACE. You can make this an unconditional refusal, or you can tell them that it is necessary in order to assert other rights (such as the right to legal advice, the right to have a properly conducted interview, and the right to have an accurate, impartial and incorruptible record of interview).

    I asserted this right conditionally on the use of an appropriate recording methodology in writing to the BBC, and it was this that caused them to ban TVL from visiting me.
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  • edited 15 July 2018 at 8:01AM
    CornucopiaCornucopia Forumite
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    edited 15 July 2018 at 8:01AM
    antrobus wrote: »
    There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law...


    I see no requirement "that any intervention must be enabled by legislation (or similar official authority)".

    These two phrases are legally equivalent. This is especially true when you consider supplementary official guidance and case law.

    In my letters to the BBC I have given three additional references.

    If you want to examine them, here they are:-

    - https://rm.coe.int/168007ff47 (p25)

    - Shimovolos v. Russia, Application no. 30194/09, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, 21 June 2011

    - ... a_guide_for_public_authorities.pdf
    I can't see any mention of that.
    This is covered in the third link. It goes as far as to state:
    "Any restriction [to the broad rights of privacy and private life] must have a clear legal basis. The restriction must be set out in law, or in rules or guidance, and it must be communicated effectively to ensure that people to whom it applies can find out about it.

    "This will allow them to prepare to change their behaviour in good time if they
    are required to do so. That might mean making guidance or other rules publicly
    available, perhaps via the internet, via other partner organisations, or through
    cross-agency working".

    As I said, I struggle to find any justification for the BBC's secretive approach before any reading of law - the notion of submitting members of the Public to a secret investigative process that can end with criminal prosecution is simply not acceptable.
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  • antrobusantrobus Forumite
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    Cornucopia wrote: »
    These two phrases are legally equivalent. ... .


    That's very debatable. But in any case, why do you feel the need to rewrite legislation in your own words?

    The point I would make is that your OP is both misleading and wrong. Article 8 does not state what you claim. Whether or not there is something else in case law or whatever that supports your assertions is neither here nor there.

    Other than that I have no particular view on your campaign against the TVLA/BBC.
  • edited 15 July 2018 at 3:51PM
    CornucopiaCornucopia Forumite
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    edited 15 July 2018 at 3:51PM
    antrobus wrote: »
    That's very debatable. But in any case, why do you feel the need to rewrite legislation in your own words?
    Since all three of the official links I posted (a) confirm my interpretation, and (b) restate the legislation in their own words, I think it's an acceptable approach to (i) explore the meaning of the legislation, and (ii) fit inevitably very broad wording of the law to the narrower specifics of the matter in hand. The very heart of the point that I am making requires the explanation that "in accordance with the law" is interpreted by the Courts and the EU as meaning "as empowered by legislation or similar rules or guidance". I struggle to understand your objection in that context - how else do you express the official interpretation of law, other than by using more words?
    The point I would make is that your OP is both misleading and wrong. Article 8 does not state what you claim.
    It means what I said it does - and that is confirmed by the links I provided. The obvious question is if Article 8 does not mean what I (and my references ) say, then what does it mean? It's not clear if you are proposing a different meaning or not, or just disagreeing for the sake of it, but if you are then (given the official documents supporting my interpretation) I'd say it was a case of an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

    In the meantime, I have slightly changed the wording to withstand a more pedantic reading.

    If/when a final explanation is eventually forthcoming from the BBC, one possible explanation is that they have failed to take suitably qualified advice from suitably qualified people, and therefore relied on some alternative interpretation of the legislation. I can imagine that someone who had not used Google (or a qualified Human Rights lawyer) to determine the meaning of "in accordance with the law" might interpret it to mean "generally, like, you know, not otherwise unlawful", and ISTR a previous BBC response to complaint that hinted at such an interpretation. That's all very well, except for three things: (a) conflicting case law which is hardly difficult to find, (b) it would render the clause rather moot, because what is the point of a law that enables anything that is not otherwise illegal, and (c) there are issues with what TVL does in lower level laws such the DPA, RIPA and PACE, and therefore at that detailed level, it would struggle to meet even the woollier, less challenging test of "not otherwise unlawful".
    Whether or not there is something else in case law or whatever that supports your assertions is neither here nor there.
    This is the HRA, remember - it's both constitutionally important and very succinct - it absolutely requires further explanation and exploration by relevant authorities including the EU, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Courts.
    Other than that I have no particular view on your campaign against the TVLA/BBC.
    Okay. But who is this "TVLA" you speak of?
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  • Tom99Tom99 Forumite
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    Cornucopia wrote: »
    Okay. But who is this "TVLA" you speak of?


    [FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Television licensing authority I would guess.[/FONT]
  • unforeseenunforeseen Forumite
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    TVLA= TV Licence/Licensing Authority
  • CornucopiaCornucopia Forumite
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    unforeseen wrote: »
    TVLA= TV Licence/Licensing Authority

    No such thing.
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  • edited 15 July 2018 at 4:33PM
    unforeseenunforeseen Forumite
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    edited 15 July 2018 at 4:33PM
    The BBC is the licensing authority for TV licences hence they are the TV Licensing Authority.

    By referring to this side of the BBC as the TVLA it stops people getting mixed up between the BBC a program provider and broadcaster and the BBC as the licencing authorities for the TV licence.
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