The Prosecutors – Consulting on Series 2 and the Criminal Law Principle of Conspiracy

In this post, Dr Simon Lavis reflects on his experience working on Series 2 of The Prosecutors and takes a closer look at conspiracy in the criminal law.

Series 2 of The Prosecutors aired on BBC2 last Thursday 2nd August and continues this coming Thursday. The programme follows the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as it takes complex criminal cases from charge through to trial. It is a BBC/Open University co-production and I was engaged on Series 2 as the OU’s academic consultant for the programme. I became involved in June 2017, joining other OU colleagues already involved with the programme, and by that point the production company had already been working on Series 2 for months so altogether it was nearly two years from the start of the project to broadcasting.

My role on this co-production has involved three main tasks. As the initial decisions about which cases to follow had already been made, the first task is reviewing and providing feedback on the edits of the programmes. The second task is to consider how we might use some of the video from the series to enhance the learning on the OU modules. The third task is preparing some of the materials that go on the OpenLearn website, to accompany the series. These allow interested viewers to find out more about the relevant areas of law and criminal justice and complete some interactive activities. For this series, I prepared a short article about new technologies and the criminal law, and an interactive quiz asking viewers to follow a scenario and decide whether they would prosecute a modern slavery case based on the evidence available.

This is my first academic consultant role for television and it has been very enjoyable meeting the production team, seeing how things work in production, and thinking about how to make the accompanying materials engaging and informative. The series itself gives a really good sense of how the CPS goes about its business, especially in complex cases that take months if not years to prosecute, and involve many perpetrators operating across the country. I do not think many people know a lot about how the CPS actually works and the sorts of issues and decisions it has to tackle, so hopefully The Prosecutors can help to improve our understanding of the service.

Series 2 also covers some interesting areas of criminal law in England and Wales. The one I want to focus on briefly here is the little understood criminal law principle of conspiracy. Conspiracy is an example of an inchoate offence, which means an incomplete offence: steps have been taken towards an act that is a crime, but the criminal act has not been completed. The criminal law is generally interested in people who have committed criminal acts with a guilty state of mind, but it is also sometimes interested in people planning to commit criminal acts if enough steps have been taken – conspiracy is an example of this.

A conspiracy is basically an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, but just conspiring to do anything is (obviously) not an offence; you have to conspire to do something criminal. It is mainly criminalised by section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which requires the following:

  • a person agrees with any other person(s)
  • to pursue a course of conduct, which
  • if the agreement is carried out as intended will either:
    • involve a criminal offence being committed; or
    • would involve an offence being committed if not for facts existing that happen to make the commission of the offence impossible.

This is a case of where it does not take much to be drawn into committing a criminal offence; just by agreeing something with someone else, even if you do not actually go on to do anything. Being part of a conspiracy can also mean that you will be punished more harshly than you would otherwise be for actually carrying out the same offence on your own. You can see examples of this in action in The Prosecutors.

 

 

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