Thousands of licence fee hearings are being held in secret

Tens of thousands of people every year are being convicted for not holding a TV Licence in hearings held behind closed doors.

They are being sentenced by magistrates in office rooms with no access for defendants, the public or press.

Lawyers are also not allowed in, even though they can result in people being fined up to £1,000 and getting a criminal record.

The Mail this week exposed the underhand tactics used by the BBC’s licence fee officers

The revelation comes after the Mail this week exposed the underhand tactics used by the BBC’s licence fee officers.

A TV Licensing manager told an undercover reporter that officers are incentivised to catch as many evaders as possible so they can be taken to court and fined.

He told the reporter: ‘We will drive you as hard as we can to get as much as we can out of you because we’re greedy.’

More than 300 BBC enforcement officers are each ordered to catch 28 evaders per week – with the most prolific paid bonuses of £15,000 a year.

Vulnerable people targeted include a young mother in a women’s refuge and a war veteran with dementia.

Last night, MPs said it is ‘very concerning’ that residents can be found guilty of licence fee evasion without the chance to make their case in court.

They said it was particularly worrying given the Mail’s findings that officials are incentivised to catch as many evaders as possible.

TV licensing manager Ian Doyle told an undercover reporter that officers are incentivised to catch as many evaders as possible 

Closed court hearings - known as Single Justice Procedures [SJP] - were introduced by the Ministry of Justice two years ago.

The Government said it was unacceptable that so much court time was taken up by minor offences such as TV Licence evasion, as well as speeding and driving without insurance.

Defendants often choose not to attend the hearings, meaning paperwork was being read aloud solely for the benefit of magistrates, prosecutors and court staff.

But there are fears that SJPs can result in people being convicted without their knowledge.

Around 180,000 people each year are charged with not paying their licence fee, with the prosecutions counting for around one in ten of all criminal cases in England and Wales.

The majority of TV Licence evasion cases are now dealt with as SJPs.

TV Licensing has admitted that some cases go ahead even when defendants have not responded to postal notices.

This means people who have changed address may have no idea they are the subject of court action and can be convicted and fined in their absence.

Conservative MP Philip Davies, who sits on the Justice select committee, said: ‘It is a point

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