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Monday, 22 November, 1999, 14:10 GMT
Will Archer face criminal charges?
Lord Archer: Could be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice

Legal experts are divided over whether Lord Archer will face criminal charges following his admission that he asked a friend to provide a false alibi for him before a libel case 12 years ago.

Scotland Yard has confirmed it is considering charges - most likely to be conspiracy to pervert the course of justice - against the disgraced Conservative peer.

But experts in criminal and media law are split over whether the investigation would lead to the former police officer facing criminal charges and a possible jail sentence - the fate that befell his fellow former Tory colleague Jonathan Aitken

Mark Stephens, of the London-based law firm Stephens Innocent, said he believed a successful criminal prosecution of Lord Archer was relatively unlikely.

"There is the potential for a prosecution for attempting to pervert the course of justice, which includes falsifying potential evidence in court," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'No bare-faced lies in court'

Jonathan Aitken: The former cabinet minister is currently serving a prison sentence for perjury
He said: "I think that the chances of actually securing a successful prosecution in that regard are low ... I suspect that at the end of the day the Crown Prosecution Service will say that there is a less than a 50% chance of a successful prosecution - these cases are notoriously difficult to make stick - and in those circumstances that we will not see Jeffrey Archer in jail.

"This is not the sort of case, like Jonathan Aitken, where bare-faced lies were told in the face of the court."

Paul Bogan QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, said he too believed Lord Archer would probably not end up in a criminal court. "I think it's unlikely," he told BBC News Online.

"Unlike the Aitken case, as I understand it this never got further than a proposal. Insofar as it might be said there was a conspiracy, there needs to be two people to conspire.

"If one of them only goes as far as to say, 'I'll help you out, but not by lying in court', and sends a letter to a solicitor about an alibi, I don't think that is sufficient evidence.

"I don't think there was an agreement between Archer and his friend to actually pervert the course of justice."

'Guilty on his own admission'

But media law expert Marcel Berlins disagreed: "I think there's a strong possibility he will face charges.

"On the face of it and even on his own admission, Lord Archer appears guilty of conspiring to attempt pervert the course of justice."

Mr Berlins said comparisons with the Aitken trial were misleading, as the circumstances around Lord Archer's procuring of a false alibi attracted the criminal charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice - an offence which, unlike perjury, did not have to take place in a courtroom.

"Just because it wasn't done in court, that doesn't mean the offence didn't happen," said Mr Berlins. "Think, if you like, of attempted murder. You can plan the murder, conspire for the murder to take place, and even if you don't actually do it, the offence is still committed."

His opinion was backed up by Michael Zander, professor of law at the London School of Economics, said there was definitely "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."

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See also:
22 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tories punish Archer
22 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague faces toughest test
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tories to re-run mayor contest
21 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Police consider charges against Archer
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Hague left fuming as Archer falls
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Archer pulls out of mayor race
20 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Profile: Jeffrey Archer

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