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Sunday, 21 November, 1999, 22:27 GMT
Q&A: Archer's legal dilemma
Lord Archer could face criminal charges

Michael Zander, professor of law at the London School of Economics, gives his view of the potential legal pitfalls that lie ahead for Lord Archer.


I think Lord Archer will be speaking to his lawyers soon to see how he stands
Q: From what you know so far, is there a case to investigate against Lord Archer from a legal standpoint?

A: There definitely is on two counts. Point one, just to clarify, it is not perjury, because that means telling a lie on oath, and there is no oath here because Jeffrey Archer did not tell this lie in court proceedings.

But there is the potential of a prosecution for perverting the course of justice, which includes falsifying potential evidence, whether or not legal proceedings have actually started.

This was clearly an attempt, if the story is correct, to get someone to prepare to give evidence, if necessary, which now turns out to be false evidence.

Point Two is the Daily Star would have the basis for going to Mr Archer and saying "Excuse me Lord Archer, can we have our 500,000 plus costs back please?", because the libel action was founded, it turns out now, on dodgy evidence.

In the sense that, if this story had been known, the jury may have taken a very different view of Lord Archer's credibility and truthfulness.


I think there is a very strong case for the Daily Star to try and recover its money
It's not that this story itself goes directly to the evidence, but it goes extremely strongly indirectly, and could easily have changed the jury's mind.

I think there is a very strong case for the Daily Star to try and recover its money.

Q: If the police decide there was a case to answer, then presumably, Lord Archer would be arrested and charged with this crime?

A: Yes, if it comes to that, it would be another Jonathan Aitken case, except of course, Johnathan Aitken gave his false evidence in court. This is a slightly different situation.

If you are charged with a criminal offence, you end up appearing in court.

Q: And would Mr Francis also have a case to answer?

A: Well he could, but I can't imagine the police would regard that as quite so serious.

But potentially of course, there is a problem for Mr Francis as well - but did he know what it was all about?

I think he could quite easily say he had no idea what it was all about.


If this story had been known, the jury may have taken a very different view of Lord Archer's credibility
Q: What sort of penalties do these charges carry if found guilty?

A: The maximum penalty for perverting the course of justice is life imprisonment but I don't think we should assume Lord Archer would go to prison for life.

If it ever comes to this point, and it is a long way down the road - maybe one or two years down the road possibly - he would be looking at a sentence of a year or 18 months, something of that order, I would think.

Q: As far as the Daily Star's lost libel case is concerned, this is relevant now not necessarily because it re-opens the matter of Jeffrey Archer and the prostitute, but it goes to the heart of his integrity and believability in a case like this doesn't it?

A: That's right. They wouldn't have to prove he was with the prostitute, they would only have to establish that if the story had been known at the time then the jury's decision might have been different.

And therefore, we can no longer rely on the jury's verdict, therefore "please can we have our money back?".

Whether Jeffrey Archer would be minded to defend that, I have no idea. It would be an interesting one to watch.

Q: By what mechanism do you re-open a libel case?

A: It would be an action to recover - under a concept which is known as unjust enrichment.

It would be an action for damages.

Q: There is then, potentially substantial legal fallout from the revelations?

A: I think Lord Archer will be speaking to his lawyers soon to see how he stands and others will be on to their lawyers.

I think the story will run and run.

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See also:
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague under pressure over Archer
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Profile: Jeffrey Archer
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague left fuming as Archer falls
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Archer statement in full
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tory turmoil over Archer's replacement
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Labour: Tory sleaze returns
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
A mayor for the millennium
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Police consider charges against Archer

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