Nobody has been jailed for failing to pay their TV licence in the last five years in Scotland - while scores have been locked up in England.

The stark reminder of differing justice policies north and south of the border comes as Tory ministers in Westminster consider decriminalising those who evade the BBC levy.

Senior figures in the Corporation fear that removing the threat of jail will lead to more people shunning the payment, seen by some as a Telly Tax.

However, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that in Scotland there is already no real risk of prison thanks to reforms carried out under the both old Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive and the current Scottish Government.

Scottish courts do not jail anybody who has failed to pay a fine of less than £500 - including the kinds of penalties imposed on those who dodge the TV licence. And there is a presumption against sentences of under three months of te kinds being dished out south of the border.

That means that nobody was sent to jail in the last five years in Scotland, compared with 39 in England and Wales in 2014, 32 in 2013 and 51 in 2012, according to numbers obtained by campaigner Caroline Levesque-Bartlett.

The average length of sentence was just 20 days in England.

Only 32 people in Scotland were prosecuted through the courts, eight unsuccessfully.

Most TV licensing fines in Scotland are made out of court. A total of 13,486 were fined. In England and Wales there were 185,580 prosecutions. That means there were more fines issued north of the border than south, per capita.

It has previously been claimed that there are more TV Licence evaders in Scotland - where satisfaction with the BBC is much lower than in England - but this is not the case.

The amount of money raised from TV licence fines, meanwhile, is also much higher in England than in Scotland. The average fine is just £75 in north of the border, compared with £170 south. The licence fee is currently around £140. So English fines are higher than the fee, while Scotland fines are exactly half of the fee.

A spokesman for  TV Licensing said: "We enforce the law in Scotland by taking a statement from those who evade, as it does in the rest of the UK.

"Subject to the usual evidential and public interest tests, cases are then sent for prosecution to the Procurator Fiscal who decides how cases are dealt with. In the vast majority of cases, the PF levies a fixed penalty by way of an out of court disposal."


In England and Wales, TV Licensing does its own prosecutions. Britain is the only state in the world were TV licence non-payment is criminalised.

The BBC believes decriminalising non-payment, as suggested by UK Government sources, would cost it hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

Tony Hall, the BBC's director-general, has said he expects the government to compensate the Corporation if evasion rises after decriminalisation.

He said: "We've had assurances from both the chancellor and the secretary of state that if they were to impose decriminalisation that will be taken into account in some arrangement to do with the money coming back in it."