I am often asked by clients if the Judge will check up on what we say to them – and my answer is always no, the court will expect that anything you say to them should be the truth – as to do otherwise would be lying to the court and opens you up to allegations of Perverting the Course of Justice. By extension your Solicitor and your Barrister are expected to be acting in a truthful and honest fashion – not just because we ourselves have a Code of Conduct we are bound by, but also by extension of the presumption granted to the Defendant as we are acting upon your instructions.
Usually this query is raised in relation of the completion of financial forms – where clients are pleading Guilty to an offence and are providing the courts with details of their financial situation to be taken into account when determining the appropriate financial penalty – and more importantly – if consideration should be given to allow the defendant to settle the sum in instalments.
In the recent, high profile, case of Mustafa Bashir, this dishonesty related not to financial matters but to the information he, and his legal team, put forward as mitigation for the Judge to consider when passing sentence. This case shouldn’t have been high-profile, it was an assault – Assault occasioning Actual Bodily Harm, but really nothing that would have made the national news. Except it did. Because the defendant in that case has since been held to have misled the court.
You might have heard about this case and not know the names – he told the court that he was a keen cricketer; in fact he had recently been offered a contract with Leicestershire County Cricket club. He told the court that he was in a settled relationship, that he was in a settled job, and that generally he had made a mistake in the past but that he had a bright future. The Judge in sentencing took all of this into account and imposed a suspended sentence – which in effect means that unless another offence is committed the Defendant would avoid actually spending time in prison.
However it was later shown that this was not the case. The coach at Leicestershire County Cricket Club gave a public statement saying that he did not recall Mr Bashir. And the court were not persuaded that this was simply a case of ‘misunderstanding’ but a deliberate attempt by the Defendant to mislead and lie to the court and its officers. The judge referenced a number of statements made to the Probation Service in preparing their report for the court in which the Defendant claims to have played for the Pakistan Under 19 team and to have played semi-professional cricket for Leicestershire along with claims that he was “due to sign a contract with a team shortly before his arrest”. Mr Bashir’s Barrister submitted to the court that if Mr Bashir were permitted to keep his liberty he would be employed by Leicestershire County Cricket Club as a professional. Mr Bashir even submitted a letter of reference from a Sports Agent referring to this promising future.
All of these claims have since been proven false.
The Judge was clear that there is “no misunderstanding here on the part of the probation officer..or your counsel” – making clear that his assessment was that all were acting on the information very clearly and deliberately provided to them by the Defendant.
The Judge made it clear that he was not altering his Sentence as punishment for the lies but that he had been “fundamentally misled” by the Defendant and that had this not been the case the sentence would have been different. He also highlighted that the Defendant may or could face investigation into whether the offence of perverting the course of justice was committed.
I will continue to tell my clients that the courts do have a presumption that the information given to them is truthful but this case bears witness to the fact that sometimes cases catch the media interest and what may seem to be a simple bending of the truth can quickly spiral into so much more.
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