On 22 October 2014, The Daily Mail covered a story about a TV show that, using hidden cameras, demonstrated that “ordinary people” – as the Mail termed them – are willing to hide seemingly incriminating evidence at the request of a friend.
The basic premise
Four “ordinary” – whatever that means – members of the public were asked by one of their friends to help cover up a crime. They were told about an incriminating bloody shirt and asked to hide it. Each of the four individuals helped their friend and took steps to either hide the shirt or were evasive with the ‘police’ who came to speak to them.
The TV show – How To Get Away With Murder – was shown on Universal on 22 October 2014 at 10pm.
Unfortunately I did not see the show, and so I only have the Mail report to go on. However, one wonders whether the four individuals are slightly nervous about a potential prosecution.
Their acts, although “set up”, would likely constitute an offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Perverting the course of justice is a common law offence, triable on indictment only, and for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. The offence is made out where a person
- does an act (a positive act or series of acts is required; mere inaction is insufficient)
- which has a tendency to pervert and
- which is intended to pervert
- the course of public justice.
The ‘course of public justice’ includes the police investigation into a possible crime and does not require legal proceedings to have begun.
On the face of it, acts to hide evidence or to assist in the avoidance of detection for a crime, would be sufficient to find that the offence was made out.
As we know, the courts treat this type of offence seriously – cast your mind back to the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce/Constance Briscoe matter, which saw all three serve a custodial sentence for perverting the course of justice.
Would they actually be prosecuted?
Unlikely. Aside from the public interest (although I can see an argument that such a prosecution would meet this test) there would no doubt be issues surrounding the intention, the feature of entrapment and the lack of knowledge as to the origin of the shirt.
No doubt Universal had their lawyers consider these issues (and whether the TV channel could be prosecuted also and came to the conclusion that legal proceedings were highly unlikely.
A lesson to the “ordinary” member of the public; in different circumstances, hiding your friend’s bloody claw hammer or discretely disposing of a blood-stained rug is likely to get you into trouble. But you probably knew that anyway.
If anyone saw the show and has any comments on it, please do let us know what you thought.