Blackmail and extortion: The Law
Blackmail is demanding something from someone and then gaining from this demand. The demand must be unwarranted and ‘with menaces'. This means a threat from the blackmailer to do something for not agreeing to the demand. The threat doesn't have to be something illegal and doesn't even have to be true. An example would be demanding £200 from someone in order to refrain from telling the world of their past adultery or previous criminal record.
The demand and the "menaces" attached can be made either expressly or can be implied.
There is a defence if the demand is made on reasonable grounds and the threat is a proper way to make the demand. This exists to cover those chasing legal debts such as banks when they send letters threatening repossession of a home unless they get paid. What amounts to a reasonable ground will depend upon the circumstances of the particular case.
Extortion is similar to blackmail. It involves obtaining money, property or services from another through threats of physical harm: "pay up or else" is an example. Protection rackets are a form of extortion.
These are not straightforward cases for the police or the prosecution to prove. Clearly, the offence requires a consideration of what communication has taken place between the alleged offender and the alleged victim. Phones and any other device used for such communication will likely be seized by the police and analysed. It is always important that blackmail solicitors in these cases take time to work through the communications with their client. The context and how particular demands were made is crucial to the success of a case.
Blackmail and extortion can range from the low-level example given above, to cases involving political figures involved in bribery and organised crime which last over a long period of time. All cases are dealt with only in the Crown Court. No sentencing guidelines exist for blackmail and so, when advising clients, blackmail solicitors must look to the decisions reached by courts in previous cases. These cases indicate that a court will consider a range of factors such as:
(i) The nature of the demand;
(ii) The victim's ability to meet that demand;
(iii) The nature of the threat should the demand not be met,
(iv) The anguish and fear which the defendant would usually experience; and
(v) The extent to which that anguish and fear was intended
The maximum sentence is 14 years. Clearly an offence over a short-lived period of time in which the threat is relatively minor such as, for example, a threat to damage a car, would be viewed in sentencing as being very different to a threat to kill over a longer period of time. Experienced blackmail solicitors will be able to match the circumstances of a person's case to previous cases to advise on a likely sentence but a person who commits a blackmail offence will very often be at significant risk of custody.