We have covered the case of Rohan Pershad, the barrister who was convicted of VAT fraud and sentenced to 3½ years in prison last year. It also spawned an interesting question as to whether Mr Pershad is still a QC or not.
As was perhaps unsurprising, Mr Pershad appealed his conviction (he had nothing to lose). This was heard on 5th March and dismissed, with the written reasons being handed down on 10th April.
Grounds of Appeal
There were two grounds of appeal put forward –
1. Prosecution failure to disclose
2. A biased summing up
It is worth reading the judgment to get a full flavour of it, but in essence, when Mr Pershad was first contacted by the Revenue and Customs Officers, he was alleged to have said “it’s fine” when given a letter explaining that he was being investigated. The note of this conversation was not disclosed by the Prosecution until during Mr Pershad’s evidence (when he said something contrary to this). There was a less persuasive ground relating to his divorce settlement (as it was information that he clearly had knowledge of).
The lawyers who were conducting the appeal produced a schedule of issues with the summing up and alleged that the Judge had been too pro-prosecution.
Mr Pershad had a couple of Pyrrhic victories. The Court of Appeal accepted that the note should have been disclosed previously (as it clearly should have) and that, having seen the “schedule of inaccuracies in the summing up. We regret to conclude that for the most part the schedule was well founded.”
Notwithstanding all of that (and as any lawyer will tell you – they could see what was coming next) the Court felt that the conviction was safe as “there were more than sufficient grounds for the conclusion that the applicant’s explanation of his failure to pay VAT was incapable of belief”.
That Mr Pershad (QC) lost the appeal is not a surprise. There are two things that are worth noting. Firstly, this was a pretty high profile case, with senior people representing the two parties. It is a worry that something as a defendant’s first reaction when confronted with an allegation was not disclosed. If it didn’t happen here, what hope is there of disclosure being done properly in an average magistrates court case.
Secondly, it is a difficult balancing act as to when errors at trial make a conviction unsafe. On the one hand, the Court of Appeal can’t let every error, however small, lead to a conviction being unsafe. On the other hand, you can see why someone may have a legitimate grievance if they are told that they have been convicted after a summing up that wasn’t fair and on the basis of evidence that wasn’t properly dealt with.
How do you square that circle? Where do you draw the line? What it comes to normally is whether the Court of Appeal can be sure that the jury would not have decided differently. That is an impossible task, especially as you cannot ask them and we have no idea how a jury came to its conclusion in any particular case.