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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Q&A: Archer's grounds for appeal
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Disgraced millionaire peer Jeffrey Archer has started a four-year prison sentence after being found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The Old Bailey jury found that the best-selling novelist had lied and cheated in his 1987 libel case against the Daily Star, which had printed a story claiming he had slept with a prostitute.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens examines Archer's grounds for appeal.

Q: What problems is Archer going to face in mounting an appeal against these convictions?

A: It is very difficult to see what proper grounds of appeal there are in this particular case.

Mr Justice Potts - a very experienced judge - went through the evidence very carefully, weighing it, putting it very fairly.

And I think most lawyers observing the case think that he did an exemplary job and there is unlikely to be any appeal on the grounds of a misdirection.

It is also clear that the jury gave very careful consideration to the various elements that are necessary for the offences.

The questions that they came back with were clearly informed.

They took an enormously long time to consider their verdict, especially given the overwhelming evidence that there was against him, and in those circumstances I find it very surprising that he is appealing.

Of course he has nothing to lose, I suppose.

Q: What would be the usual grounds for appeal in cases of this type?

A: Normally in a case where you have not given evidence in your own defence, you either have to say that the case for the prosecution was not made out and there was some flaw in it or there was some flaw in the summing up to the jury - some misdirection in law if you like.

In both those cases they seem to be absent in this case and so maybe he is just going to appeal about the length of the sentence as opposed to the substantive issues of the case.

Q: As these cases go, how weighty was the evidence against Archer?

A: I think most people think that the evidence against Archer was overwhelming and obviously one of the reasons that he did not give evidence was the fact that most people felt that he did not have a good answer to the prosecution's case.

He could not have credibly denied the prosecution's case and that is why he did not go into the box and exacerbate the crime that he had already committed by lying yet again.

Q: In terms of the publicity that the case has received, does that present any special problems for an appeal?

A: No, I do not think it does.

In most cases that are tried before juries, the courts are very careful to look at the media coverage and see whether that has tainted the jury in any way, and whether the process that the courts have gone through has been flawed by media coverage.

But of course judges are specially trained.

They spend years taking no notice of the media and put these things out of their minds and look at the things very much in a clinical way on the evidence before them.

I do not think that the many pages that we have seen in the press on Friday and the broadcast media will have any effect on a judge at all.

In those circumstances, I think there is no hope there - no straw there that he can grasp at.

Q: What about the coverage of the case while the jury was considering the case and hearing the evidence? Was there any chink of light for him there? Was there any misreporting or any sort of prejudicial reporting that you know of?

A: I looked very carefully for it because I thought that this might be the way that he would come out of it, but ultimately there was no reporting that seemed to transgress any boundaries.

Certainly none was reported to the judge and in those circumstances I think there is no straw for him to clutch at there either.

Q: What about the cost of an appeal of this nature? What sort of ballpark figure is Archer looking at for this?

A: I would think it is probably going to cost him about another 100,000 to 200,000 for an appeal.

But in many respects, if what you are doing were to manage to reduce the sentence by even six months, many people would think that is money well spent.

Certainly Jeffrey Archer, a man of immense wealth, could write a book in that time and presumably make that money back many fold over.

Q: Is he in danger of having further costs awarded against him and indeed not having his sentence reduced?

A: You are absolutely right.

There is something that he stands to lose, which is that he could have his fine increased or his sentence increased.

It is unusual for that to happen.

The Court of Appeal should be in a position to review the sentence and people should have that opportunity, especially in a case of this kind of celebrity.

But the court has the discretion to extend the sentence if they feel he is merely abusing the legal process.

Q: What is the timescale that we would be typically looking at for an appeal? When could we expect to see Archer back in court?

A: I think we will see the appeal come on some time towards the end of this year or the beginning of next.

Of course there is no terrible, tearing urgency unless somebody is able to identify fairly quickly a very fundamental flaw and draw that to the Court of Appeal's attention.

In those circumstances I think that the Court of Appeal will think they are not talking about whether or not there should be a conviction, but reducing the sentence - and they obviously have got four years in which to hear the case even if they were going to give him a bit of time off.

Q: What do you think the chances are of him having that sentence reduced at all?

A: I think the chances of him actually having the sentence reduced are pretty minimal.

I think the Court of Appeal will understand that the whole basis of the legal system that we have in this country is founded on the fact that we have a belief that you should tell the truth - the truth as you see it and then the judge makes up their mind.

If you start lying then you break the rules of the game and the whole of the foundation of the legal system begins to crumble.

So I think the courts will want to - particularly as someone as high profile as this has lied in such a barefaced way - be clear about the message they are sending to the community at large.



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