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Witness intimidation is a serious issue that can have far-reaching consequences for the entire criminal justice process, not just individual trials. Witness intimidation occurs when a witness, victim, or their family members are threatened, harassed, or pressured in an effort to prevent them from giving their side of the story in court or cooperating with the police. When a witness is intimidated, it undermines the integrity of the legal process and can lead to wrongful convictions or acquittals. This is why the offence of witness intimidation is taken so seriously in the UK. In this blog post, we will outline the offence of witness intimidation in the UK, the consequences of this offence (including sentencing), and look at some defences you might be able to rely upon if you are charged with such an offence.
Witness intimidation is an offence under Section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. What is commonly referred to as a ‘section 51 offence’ is actually two offences:
There are many ways that a person can commit the offence of witness intimidation in the UK. Some examples of witness intimidation include:
Note that witness intimidation can occur in a variety of contexts, including criminal trials, civil proceedings, and broader police investigations.
Anyone who threatens or intimidates a witness or their family members in an effort to influence their testimony or cooperation with the authorities can be charged with the offence of witness intimidation. This includes the accused person in a criminal case, their associates, or accomplices, or even strangers who have no connection to the case.
Witness intimidation can be committed by individuals or groups, and it can occur in a variety of contexts. Remember, too, that a person can be charged with witness intimidation even if their actions do not ultimately succeed in preventing a witness from testifying. The mere attempt to intimidate a witness is sufficient to constitute the offence in the UK.
For a section 51(1) or 51(2) offence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, you could receive a sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment if convicted in the Magistrates’ Court, or up to 5 years’ custody if convicted in the Crown Court.
As with any crime, these are the maximum sentences for these offences, and the actual sentence will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
When sentencing, judges consider a variety of factors that may either increase (aggravate) or decrease (mitigate) the harshness of the sentence that the convicted person will receive. These factors exist to allow a judge to decide on a more appropriate sentence for the specific circumstances of the case, rather than just imposing sentences blindly.
Some examples of aggravating factors that may be considered in the sentencing process include:
On the other hand, mitigating factors may be considered in order to reduce the severity of the sentence. Some examples of mitigating factors include:
The presence or absence of aggravating or mitigating factors may not be the sole determinant of a sentence, but rather will be considered along with other relevant circumstances and the gravity of the offence. The judge has discretion to determine the appropriate sentence based on the specific circumstances of the case, the offender, and the principles of fairness and proportionality.
There are several defences that may be available to a person charged with witness intimidation. In order for any defence to be successful, the defendant and their legal team must be able to provide sufficient evidence and convincing arguments to support their case. Without that, it will be very difficult to refute the prosecution’s claims and may even result in a harsher sentence in the end.
Possible defences include:
It is important to note that these are just a few examples of the potential defences that may be available to a person charged with witness intimidation. The specific defences that are available will depend on the circumstances of the case and the judgement of a criminal defence solicitor as to the likelihood of success of each option.
If you or someone you care about is facing a potential charge – or has already been charged – with a witness intimidation offence, it is crucial you secure legal representation as soon as possible to prevent any further allegations of intimidation while you are going about your day-to-day life. Having to restrict your activities is never a nice thing to do, especially when you haven’t done anything wrong, but by changing certain behaviours or altering simple habits (for example, changing the route you drive to work in the morning), you can avoid compounding any allegations against you.
For more information on how to proceed, contact the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our friendly and non-judgemental team is waiting for your call.
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