The BBC has undermined a Law Society call to trial online convictions with cases of TV licensing evasion, after the broadcaster highlighted flaws in its argument.
In its response to the vision statement on the transformation of the justice system published jointly by the Lord Chancellor and senior judiciary, the Law Society opposed piloting the idea of dealing entirely online with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences with railway and tram fare evasion, and cases of possession of an unlicensed rod and line.
The society said most fare evasion offences involved elements – such as dishonesty – that made them inappropriate for the pilot and those that did not were not of sufficient volume. Similarly, there were not enough fishing offences.
Instead, it recommended a two-year pilot of TV licence evasion, which it said accounted for approximately 10% of magistrates’ court time, and “most importantly”, pleading guilty would not result in a criminal record.
It cited a Guardian article from 2014 for the statistics it used in its response, but the author of the society’s response appears to have misread what the article said.
The BBC has been in contact with Legal Futures since we published the article to put this right.
A spokeswoman said: “David Perry QC’s  review into licence fee enforcement noted that TV licensing (TVL) cases accounted for 0.6% of court time, not 10% as stated.
“Since then, TVL has implemented the single justice procedure across England and Wales, reducing court time still further. The review also noted the cost of court time and enforcement for TVL offences is largely met by fine amounts received.
“The Ministry of Justice has said online convictions and fixed fines are not designed for cases where there are large numbers of non-responders and TVL cases have a 75% non-response rate.
“In addition, the Perry review concluded the current system of criminal enforcement should be maintained while the present system of licence fee collection is in force. In its recent white paper on charter review, the government noted its agreement with the review’s assessment.”
A Law Society spokesman said: “The submission we made to a Ministry of Justice consultation contained an inaccuracy and we have written to correct the error. We said TV licence cases accounted for 10% of court time when that figure apparently refers to the proportion of cases. We apologise for any confusion this has caused.”
He did not say whether, beyond adjusting the figure, the society was recasting its response to the consultation given the BBC’s comments.