The Cricket Spot Fixing Trial - a stark reminder of subsisting bribery and corruption legislation

Published 21 November 2011 By: Kevin Carpenter

With recent attention being focussed on the introduction of the new big bad Bribery Act 2010 it has been easy to forget the legislative regime governing a wider remit of bribery offences in the UK prior to 1 July 2011 (the date on which the Bribery Act came into force). However, Tuesday 1 November 2011 saw the old guard once again taking centre stage

with the jury at Southwark Crown Court handing down guilty verdicts for various bribery offences (as well as other corruption offences) to Pakistan international cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and agent Mazhar Majeed, in relation to spot fixing in an international cricket test match between England and Pakistan in August 2010. Two days later Mr Justice Cooke sentenced the four defendants to various jail terms. The week after both Mr Butt and Mr Amir lodged appeals against their sentences. I am going to take a brief look at the legislation that the defendants were prosecuted under, the nature of the offences committed, and what can be learnt by sporting individuals and organisations from this dark sporting drama. 

What is spot fixing? 

Spot fixing is a sub-set of the wider problem of match fixing and can be defined as, "a dishonest activity by participants, team officials, match officials or other interested parties to ensure a specific [event occurs] in a particular sporting match…for competitive advantage and/or financial gain which negatively impacts on the integrity of the sport” (Kevin Carpenter, September 2011). In this particular instance the spot fixing consisted of no balls being bowled by two of the defendants at specific points during England’s first innings. The evidence that such activities were taking place was brought to light in this case by an undercover sting by a reporter from the now defunct News of the World who offered Mr Majeed a large cash payment for information on when no balls were to be bowled during England’s first innings. Mr Majeed then arranged with the other defendants for the no balls to be bowled in exchange for cash payments. The information on when the no balls were to be bowled was then further exploited by betting on specialist markets offered by some bookmakers, particularly in the subcontinent where gambling on cricket is largely illegal. 

The relevant legislation 

Criminal charges were brought against the defendants under the following legislation:

  • Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 – obtaining or accepting, or agreeing to obtain or accept, “any gift or money as consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do ... any act in relation to his [employer's] affairs or business, or for showing or forbearing to show favour or disfavour to any person in relation to his [employer's] affairs or business";
  • Criminal Law Act 1977 – conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments; and
  • Gambling Act 2005 – conspiracy to do an act(s) to enable another to cheat at gambling.

Contravention of the first two Acts carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment and contravention of the Gambling Act carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment. 

Conspiracy is an inchoate offence, meaning that the offence lies in the agreement itself, rather than what is done to carry out the agreement. The key elements of the conspiracy offence which the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt to the jury are: agreement, intent, and dishonesty according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people. 

The trial and judgment 

Evidence produced at the trial in the form of information from secret recordings and text messages from the undercover sting, along with cross-examination of the defendants, gave the jury an insight into the tricks and subterfuge that connected betting syndicates with sport and convinced the jury to unanimously find the defendants guilty. In sentencing the defendants Cooke J did not hold back with his criticism and contempt for what they had conspired to do and its consequences, "It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious. The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had. You procured the bowling of 3 no balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling.” Unsurprisingly the judge was of the opinion that the offences were of such a serious nature that only sentences of imprisonment would suffice: 

  • Mr Majeed – as the agent who facilitated the offences and gained the most from the offences (over £100,000), Mr Majeed was sentenced on the count of conspiracy to make corrupt payments to 2 years and 8 months, and on the gambling count to 16 months in jail, to run concurrently;
  • Mr Butt – as the captain of the team, Cooke J was clear that Mr Butt was the orchestrator of the offences and sentenced him on the count of conspiracy to make corrupt payments to 2 years and 6 months, and on the gambling count to 2 years in jail, to run concurrently;
  • Mr Asif – as one of the bowlers, Mr Asif was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 1 year's imprisonment on each count; and
  • Mr Amir – as another one of the bowlers, and only 19 years old, Mr Amir was sentenced to 6 months detention in a Young Offenders’ Institution on each offence to run concurrently.

These were reduced sentences given various pleas that were put forward by each of defendants and the playing bans imposed previously by the International Cricket Council at an arbitration hearing at their Doha headquarters. One may question whether the latter mitigating factor should be considered at all in a criminal trial? 

Lessons to be learned 

Much attention and media coverage has been given to the Bribery Act 2010, which came into force on 1 July 2011, and its effect on business. In the Ministry of Justice guidance (which can be found here) it is stated that, "This Act deals only with bribery - not other forms of white collar crime, such as: fraud, theft, books and records offences, Companies Act offences, money laundering offences or competition law". 

On this basis the case of the Pakistan cricketers serves as an important reminder on two fronts. First, there is a myriad of both civil and criminal legislation which remains in force in relation to corrupt activities which sporting organisations and their employees need to be aware of. Secondly, the Bribery Act does not have retrospective effect, and therefore for bribery offences which come to light committed prior to 1 July 2011, of which will be the majority for some years to come, the relevant legislation will be the aforementioned statutes (amongst others), which this case has shown can be extremely penal in their severity. The outcome of the appeals may see some leniency exercised in the sentencing for these bribery offences by the appeal courts, which have been criticised in some quarters for their severity, particularly in the case of the young and impressionable Mr Amir. 

Kevin Carpenter, Executive Contributor at LawinSport, Lawyer at SJ Berwin LLP. You can follow Kevin on LinkedIn and Twitter @kevswfc55


Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.

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