Decriminalising TV licence evasion will have little impact on the work of the courts but will end the disproportionate sanction for those caught, the chairman of the Magistrates' Association has said.
Richard Monkhouse told the Gazette that the association supports the proposal by Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen to make non-payment a civil rather than a criminal matter.
The move has gained the support of 150 MPs, but the BBC warned it may lead to more people failing to pay and could cost the corporation up to £200m a year.
According to the Ministry of Justice 164,932 people were found guilty of TV licence evasion in 2012 and 51 went to prison for not paying subsequent fines.
Monkhouse said that while TV licence evasion accounts for 12% of cases that come before magistrates' courts, they take up only 0.5% of their time, so the change will make little difference to the courts' workload.
But he said the association supports decriminalisation because the impact of non-paying of fines, which can lead to imprisonment in some cases, is disproportionate.
'Utility services do have a criminal context for default in payments; they are dealt with by the civil law, and it should be the same for TV licence evasion,' said Monkhouse.
Proportionally, he said the offence affects more women than men, suggesting this is because it is more often women who open the door to the inspectors.
'Criminalising people for not having a TV licence is a bit of a severe penalty and where they go to prison it has a disproportionate impact,' he said.