Ofcom upholds the principles of firm and impartial enforcement underpinned by the principle of proportionality.
Action by the courts
Legislation gives the courts considerable scope to punish offenders and to deter others, including imprisonment for some offences. Unlimited fines may be imposed by higher courts. The courts can also order offenders to forfeit expensive equipment and to pay Ofcom's prosecution costs.
Targeting involves relating enforcement action to the risks. Our resources are not infinite and we are therefore more likely to focus on more serious circumstances. It is neither possible nor necessary to investigate all issues of interference or non-compliance for the purposes of protecting and managing the radio spectrum.
In selecting which complaints or reports of interference to investigate, and in deciding the level of resources to be used, Ofcom will consider the following:
severity and scale of any potential or actual harm;
seriousness of any potential breach of the law;
practicality of achieving results;
wider implications of the event, including whether there is serious public concern.
Consistency of approach does not mean uniformity. It means taking a similar approach in similar circumstances to achieve similar ends.
Transparency includes helping stakeholders to understand what is expected of them and what they should expect from Ofcom.
Ofcom is accountable for our actions. We report annually to Parliament and we publish information about our enforcement activities.
Ofcom will exercise discretion in deciding whether incidents or complaints should be investigated.
In England and Wales, the decision to proceed with a court case rests with Ofcom. We decide whether to prosecute after considering the strength of the evidence and the guidance set down by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
No prosecution may go ahead unless the prosecutor considers there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution would be in the public interest.
The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires that the decision to prosecute is kept under continuous review so that any new facts or circumstances, in support of or undermining the prosecution’s case, are taken into account in the decision to continue or terminate the proceedings. Where the circumstances warrant it and the evidence to support a case is available, enforcing authorities may prosecute without prior warning or recourse to alternative sanctions.
Prosecution in Scotland
In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal decides whether to bring a prosecution. This may be based on a recommendation by Ofcom. Ofcom decides whether to report a case to the Procurator Fiscal with a view to prosecution.
Before prosecutions can be instituted, the Procurator Fiscal will need to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence and that prosecution is in the public interest. Therefore, in Scotland the decision to prosecute is made by the prosecutor rather than by Ofcom, however Ofcom's views will typically be taken into account.
The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 is the principal legislation on the regulation of radio spectrum in the UK and the powers available to Ofcom. We are responsible for authorising civil use of the radio spectrum and achieve this by granting wireless telegraphy licences under the Act. We also make regulations exempting users of particular equipment from the requirement to hold such a licence.
We may take enforcement action against those operating without a licence or in contravention of their licence conditions. We will often try to help people bring themselves within the law, but where necessary or appropriate will prosecute or take other enforcement action under Wireless Telegraphy legislation, for example to prevent interference or other harm.