A former barrister who received the first-ever life sentence for perverting the course of justice, over claims she made against another barrister, has won her appeal against sentence.
Anisah Arif Ahmed was jailed for what the Court of Appeal called her “calculated, sophisticated, sustained, and repeated attempts to falsify evidence” in a bid to have Iqbal Mohammed arrested and prosecuted for various offences.
It followed an affair they had in 2014, when ended acrimoniously after Ms Ahmed discovered that Mr Mohammed was married.
She pleaded guilty to one count of perverting the course of justice and another of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. In April this year, His Honour Judge Gledhill QC at Oxford Crown Court sentenced her to life imprisonment with a minimum term of four years, six months and 10 days for both counts.
A co-accused, Mustafa Hussain, pleaded guilty to conspiring to pervert the course of justice and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
Ms Ahmed was disbarred in 2018 for unconnected reasons: she lied about her qualifications and experience in a bid both to obtain a pupillage and persuade the Bar Standards Board to reduce its length.
Giving the decision of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Julian Knowles recounted how, after the end of the affair, Ms Ahmed sent emails, text messages and social media messages to Mr Mohammed’s wife, family, head of chambers, work colleagues and friends.
He reported her to West Midlands Police and she was sent a harassment warning letter in January 2015.
She then told Mr Mohammed’s chambers that he was harassing her based on two emails which she had forged to look like he sent them.
“This was the start of a long campaign by the appellant of the harassment of Mr Mohammed of the most serious kind,” Knowles J said. “The emails contained violently obscene comments and threats.”
Ms Ahmed also used the fake emails to obtain a non-molestation order against Mr Mohammed in March 2015.
On the day that the order was granted, she reported him to the police for harassment on the basis of what she said was another threatening email which again she had faked.
“Fortunately, Mr Mohammed’s chambers had carried out an investigation that revealed that the two emails relied upon by the appellant in civil proceedings were not sent from Mr Mohammed’s account.
“The results of the investigation were reported to the police, who opened an investigation into the appellant for harassment.”
Ms Ahmed then approached a different police force and reported that Mr Mohammed had raped her, although he was not arrested at this stage.
She also contacted Mr Hussain, an ex-boyfriend, and persuaded him to help her. They bought a mobile in Mr Mohammed’s name to send Ms Ahmed abusive messages and threatening calls, which she then reported to the police.
She was subsequently charged with harassment but her behaviour escalated further and in June 2015, Mr Mohammed was arrested for rape, which Ms Ahmed backed up with more faked threats.
It reached the point the following month where she reported that she had been stabbed in the street.
She was taken to hospital with a stab wound to her thigh which the court said “could easily have proved fatal had an artery been severed”. The blood staining was not consistent with her account and CCTV evidence showed that Mr Hussain was at the scene.
“As a result, Mr Mohammed was not arrested. It was unclear who had inflicted the actual wound; the appellant and Hussain blamed each other,” the court noted.
Her attempts to frame Mr Mohammed continued, including having Mr Hussain claim that he was acting under Mr Mohammed’s direction.
But the “unconvincing and incomplete account” Mr Hussain provided, combined with telephones recovered from his car, led to the police uncovering the conspiracy.
The campaign against Mr Mohammed had “very serious consequences for him”, Knowles J noted.
“He said the nightmare had to endure for six months felt like a lifetime. At one stage he contemplated taking his own life, as he felt his personal and professional life was disintegrating in front of him.”
Ms Ahmed was 33 at sentence and, while she had no previous convictions, she had a caution from 2009 for harassment that had some similar features.
The psychological and psychiatric evidence before the sentencing judge outlined how she had emotionally unstable personality disorder.
HHJ Gledhill concluded that she posed a high risk of committing further serious offences and it was not possible to know when that risk would diminish, meaning it could only be managed by a discretionary life sentence.
The sentence for the common law offence of perverting the course of justice is at large and so, in theory at least, such a sentence was open to the judge. But there were no records to indicate one has ever been imposed before.
Knowles J said discretionary life sentences were only generally appropriate where there was “a propensity to commit offences which cause a serious danger to the public”.
While it was “quite clear” that Ms Ahmed was “intent on destroying her victim’s life, and she came close to doing so”, there was no “very serious violent or sexual offending”. Nor was there sufficient material to support the conclusion that she represented a “serious danger” to the public for an indeterminate time.
The facts did not warrant a life sentence. “We therefore regard it as manifestly excessive and wrong in principle. In reaching that conclusion, we acknowledge the difficult task facing the sentencing judge in this very unusual case.”
The court substituted a sentence 10 years’ imprisonment – meaning Ms Ahmed will be released on licence after five years – and said she would also be made subject to an indefinite restraining order to protect Mr Mohammed, his wife and their family.