The downfall of Constance Briscoe serves as a pointed reminder that even barristers and judges cannot escape the law.
Jailed for 16 months for perverting the course of justice in the police case against former Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne; Constance Briscoe is now subject to another criminal investigation in relation to a libel case brought by her mother.
The common theme in the allegations is that she tried to dishonestly influence the outcome of court cases; in the first instance by lying to police and in the second by allegedly forging documentation.
Although the case that led to Ms Briscoes’ fall was related to criminal proceedings, the latter allegations refer to a civil claim.
Both serve to highlight the dangers for those who risk bending the truth to win in court.
Perverting the Course of Justice
Perverting the course of justice is a common law offence which can involve one of several actions that are designed to interfere with the administration of justice, including disposing of or fabricating evidence. There is no maximum sentence but sentencing is likely to attract terms of 4 to 36 months. Other crimes such as perjury, witness tampering and fraud can lead to charges of perverting the course of justice.
In Constance Briscoe’s case she was found guilty on three counts for providing police with inaccurate witness statements, providing an altered copy of a witness statement and having an expert review the wrong copy of a witness statement. In passing sentence Mr Justice Baker said she had displayed ‘arrogance’ and had ‘considered respect for the law was for others’.
Ms Briscoe was suspended from the judiciary in light of the case against her. Subsequently the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) invited her to make representations as to why she might not be removed from the judiciary.
How a Civil Claim Can Lead to Criminal Penalties
The circumstances surrounding the downfall of Constance Briscoe were mired in the criminal law from the start. However, the latest allegations against her actually relate to a civil claim brought by her mother.
As well as having a successful legal career, Constance Briscoe had become a published bestselling author with her book Ugly which sold around 500,000 copies. The book, which was published by Hodder & Stoughton, was a memoir about the Briscoe’s life and contained allegations that her mother had abused her physically and emotionally.
Following publication of Ugly, Briscoe’s mother Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell sued her daughter and the publisher for libel but lost the case and most of her money in the process.
The latest allegations claim that Briscoe forged documents in order to influence the outcome of that case.
It is important that litigating parties understand the risks of providing false information in court cases even for civil claims, as criminal sanctions can follow. For specialist litigation advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.