First year’s legal career hopes hanging by a thread
A law student from Nottingham Trent University has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison after he tried to get money out of a schoolgirl who had sent him a naked photograph on Snapchat.
19-year-old Zeeshan Aqsar pleaded guilty to blackmail — which features on the syllabus of many LLB criminal law modules, and is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 14 years — accepting that his behaviour was “utterly unacceptable, gross and offensive”.
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard how Aqsar had blackmailed the young teenager after beginning to talk to her on Blackberry Messenger when she was 15-years-old.
After she sent him a photograph of her in her underwear — which he saved using an app that captures Snapchat pictures before they vanish — he later threatened to send the image to others if she did not send him more revealing images, and pay him £100, reports The Stoke Sentinel, which had a reporter at the trial.
The schoolgirl obliged and sent over four more photographs of herself, and went on to meet Asqar to hand over £70 of her birthday money. A few days later, Aqsar demanded another £100, prompting the girl to report his actions to the police in June this year.
Despite the seriousness of the offence, Aqsar’s lawyer, Rodney Halligan, pushed for a suspended sentence, drawing the judge’s attention to the devastating effect a custodial sentence would have on the young university student’s hopes of a legal career.
But judge David Fletcher dismissed this — owing to the severity of “the turmoil, terror, worry and anguish” experienced by the victim, he believed that the only appropriate punishment was an immediate prison sentence.
This morning Legal Cheek caught up with Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) spokesperson Lee Shrimpton to ask whether a criminal conviction of this kind would preclude Aqsar from entering the legal profession.
The message from the SRA is not clear cut: the “Suitability Test” requires all applicants to declare their previous criminal history, all of which will be taken into account at the initial consideration stage.
Unless there are “exceptional circumstances”, an application will be refused if the applicant has been imprisoned for his or her offence, and/or if the crime involves “dishonesty, fraud, perjury and/or bribery”. Shrimpton notes, however:
Everyone has the chance to state their case, and there is no specific offence that bars entry into the profession … everyone has the right to plead ‘exceptional circumstances’.