TV Licence conviction against woman with Down's Syndrome overturned after Standard report

The conviction of a woman with Down’s Syndrome for not paying the TV Licence has been overturned after an Evening Standard investigation into a secretive courts system.

The 57-year-old from Charlton was taken to court via the Single Justice Procedure in December, when TV Licensing insisted she was responsible for an unpaid bill.

Yet court papers revealed she has such limited mental capacity that her finances are managed by the local council, and she was oblivious to the TV Licence direct debit accidentally lapsing.

The woman, who has Down’s Syndrome and learning difficulties, was convicted in a private hearing by a lone magistrate, who imposed a six-month conditional discharge and ordered her to pay a £26 victim surcharge.

But after The Standard revealed details of the case and sparked outcry among social media users, the criminal conviction was quashed and TV Licensing dropped the prosecution.

Details of the case, extracted from the fast-track Single Justice Procedure, show the woman is looked after by officials at Greenwich Council.

She told a TV Licensing official on the doorstep last August that she is disabled and had no idea that one of her bills had gone unpaid.

When the prosecution was brought in December, a council official wrote in to explain that the woman had no involvement with her lapsed direct debit but efforts had been made to catch up with payments.

But due to the way the way the courts system operates for most TV Licensing cases, the prosecutors did not see the council’s letter – which provided vital new information – and it did not intervene to stop the case. The magistrate also opted not to refer the case to a full open court hearing when a lawyer for TV Licensing would be present.

At a hearing at Willesden magistrates court, following the Standard’s reporting, the case was reopened, the conviction was set aside, and the case against the woman was formally abandoned.

It is a development that appears to vindicate calls for a reform of the Single Justice Procedure, so that prosecutors are more involved and are able take decisions on the public interest in pursuing cases once mitigation has been offered.

In this woman’s case, Greenwich Council entered a guilty plea on behalf of the woman and said it has a court order proving her finances are “managed by the Financial Protection and Appointee Team at Royal Borough of Greenwich”.

“(Her) TV licence has always been paid by direct debit and I have just seen it expired in May 2023, but it looks like the direct debits have not continued for June 23 onwards which we were not aware of”, the official wrote in mid-December.

“I have just applied online to set up a new direct debit and her first payment of £123 comes out in Jan 2024, then she will be paying £41 a month after that.

“Please contact myself if you wish to discuss this further.”

TV Licensing confirmed to the Standard it did not see the Greenwich Council letter before the woman was sentenced.

Facing questions about its use of the Single Justice Procedure for criminal cases, TV Licensing says it makes all possible efforts to avoid prosecutions and usually sends multiple letters about unpaid bills before criminal proceedings begin.

It says letters of mitigation from defendants are not reviewed by prosecutors but are taken into consideration by magistrates when they pass sentence.