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Court clerk makes legal history as he became the first person to be jailed under new Bribery Act (2010)

Published on 1 Dec 2011 under category: article

This story first appeared via the Press Association Nov 18, 2011, produced by Katie Hodge and Mary Ann Pickford. The story was then picked up and reproduced by numerous newspapers and broadcasters.

 A court clerk made legal history today as he became the first person to be jailed under new bribery legislation.

Munir Patel, 22, used his privileged access to the court system to help more than 50 offenders avoid prosecution in exchange for sums of up to £500, Southwark Crown Court was told.

He was today handed a three-year prison term for bribery and ordered to serve six years concurrently for misconduct in a public office.

Patel remained impassive as Judge Alistair McCreath told him: "It hardly needs saying that these were very serious offences.

"They involved a very substantial breach of trust. Your position as a court clerk had at its heart a duty to public confidence in it.

"A justice system in which officials are prepared to take bribes in order to allow offenders to escape the proper consequences of their offending is inherently corrupt and is one which deserves no public respect and which will attract none.

"The public would expect, and rightly expect, the courts to take strong action to protect and defend the integrity of the justice system."

Police believe Patel helped at least 53 individuals evade prosecution for driving offences by tampering with the system so their cases would effectively be dropped.

He also advised on how to avoid being summoned to court while working in an administrative capacity at Redbridge Magistrates' Court in east London, on a salary of £17,978.

For this he was paid a total of at least £20,000.

But the court heard that £53,814 in cash was deposited in his bank account while another £42,383 was transferred into the same account, both without explanation.

Turning to those who escaped punishment because of Patel's actions, the judge said: "This indictment represents misconduct which lasted well over a year and involved at least 53 cases in which you manipulated the process in order to save offenders from the consequences of their offending - fines, penalty points and disqualification."

Jailing Patel, of Green Lane, Dagenham, east London, the judge said there were "no sentencing guidelines" with which to work, given that the case was the first of its kind under the new legislation.

The defendant, who married just two months ago, mouthed "Don't worry" to friends and family who packed into the public gallery as he was led from the dock.

Earlier, the court was told how Patel came to the attention of authorities following a national newspaper sting.

Sting operation by the Sun newspaper

The Sun was contacted by motorist Jayraj Singh after Patel offered to help him avoid a speeding ticket, claiming he could take advantage of a legal loophole for £500.

Mr Singh, who came into contact with Patel after calling the Magistrates' Court in relation to his case, said he received a series of text messages from Patel warning him that a conviction would cause his insurance to go up.

In one, he wrote: "Bruv, man, you are going to get f*****". In another he added: "I only do this for Asian bruvs. I do this all day long."

A subsequent analysis of his mobile phone and documents found at his home - many of which he had "no business possessing" - suggested that this incident was "but a drop in the ocean", Caroline Haughey, prosecuting, told the court.

While Patel was said to have performed "numerous acts of gross misconduct" for the benefit of friends and family, the court heard he also used the "sophisticated" ruse to avoid his own prosecution.

In that instance, he evaded a penalty by returning his summons after it arrived by post with a note reading: "Not of this address".

It was a technique prosecutors believe he resorted to in many of the 53 cases that have come to light.

Following his arrest, police found a stash of intimating evidence on his desk at work.

This included six blank invoices for a north London garage which, prosecutors believe, he would supply to drivers accused of speeding to use as false proof that their vehicle had been at the garage rather then on the road at the time of the alleged offence.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said it was likely the scale of his offending went "beyond" the 53 individuals and was "not limited to the cluster of courts in which he worked" but extended across north London.

The judge told him his actions had caused "great harm" and amounted to a "grave breach of trust".

"It is plain that you were the prime mover in all of this," he said.

"These were not instances in which you were approached and corrupted by others.

"On the contrary, you sought out people and suggested to them that, for payment, you could help them out of their difficulties.

"Your motivation in doing this was financial reward and it was significant indeed - at least £20,000."

Patel, who admitted the charges against him, was told his sentence had been reduced by a third to take into account his guilty plea.

He denied seven counts of possession of an article for use in fraud which will lie on file.

Ahead of sentencing, Judge McCreath commended Mr Singh for bringing the matter to the attention of the Press and subsequently the police, adding: "One would hope that all citizens would behave as he did."

Patel, who is of previous good character, began working for Redbridge Magistrates' Court in February 2009.

He became the first person to be prosecuted and convicted under the Bribery Act 2010, after his arrest in August.

The much-heralded new legislation came into force on July 1 and it was thought the first prosecution could be a high-profile corporate case.

The Sun technically breached the Bribery Act as it helped to secure the landmark conviction, the newspaper's managing editor said this week.

Richard Caseby urged Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke to consider introducing a public interest defence to the Act, saying the current laws left reporters open to prosecution.

But Mr Clarke ruled out the move, saying the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer QC, would simply dismiss any cases in which a prosecution was not in the public interest.

Mr Caseby told the Society of Editors' (SoE) annual conference at Egham, Surrey: "To conduct a sting on this individual, we had to pay him money.

"The reporter came to me, I signed him off a certain amount of money, and he paid him, so technically I'm in breach of the Bribery Act, so is that reporter, and so is News International, which could now be subject to an unlimited fine."

Judge McCreath said Patel's sentence was designed to deter similar activity and protect the legal system from corruption.

"It is important that those who are tempted to behave in this way understand that there will be serious consequences," he said.

"Sentences for this sort of offence must act to deter offending of this kind.

"They must also reflect the determination of the courts to protect the process from corrupt practices and to maintain public confidence in the justice system."

Dan Hyde, a consultant at Cubism Law, said the landmark case proved the Bribery Act has "teeth".

"Significantly it (this prosecution) involved a newspaper sting which, itself, involved the apparent payment of a bribe," he said.

"The sentence further demonstrates that the legislation has teeth and will send out a clear warning that offenders will face significant sentences."

However, he raised questions over the protection afforded to MPs under the legislation.

"In contrast to Mr Clarke's refusal to contemplate the inclusion of a public interest defence, on the basis prosecutions not in the public interest would be dismissed by the DPP, it is worth noting that Clause 15 of the Bribery Bill was removed so as to prevent the speeches and conduct of MPs being used in evidence and to ensure the protection of privilege remained.

"If one were sceptical, the question might be posed: Shouldn't the power of the DPP to dismiss any prosecution not in the public interest be sufficient protection for MPs?"

Cubism Law provides a range of high level services in the areas of bribery, fraud & white collar crime.

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