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02 November 2023

Behind the Scenes: navigating criminal issues in the entertainment industry

4 mins

In the world of entertainment where glitz, glamour, and captivating narratives reign supreme, it’s no secret that we, as viewers, have an enduring fascination with crime.

The clearest example of this is the eruption of the True Crime genre, which in the last few years has seen the success of countless docuseries such as ‘Jimmy Saville: A British Horror Story’ and ‘24 Hours in Police Custody’, to name just a few.

The last few years have also seen numerous high-profile individuals caught up in allegations of serious criminal offending that have damaged their personal reputations, as well as the reputation of many of the projects on which they have worked. So, what happens when crime creeps into the entertainment industry, and what are some of the key issues directors, producers, talent agents, actors, and everyone involved should be aware of?

Allegations of criminal behaviour

We have seen over the last few years that the entertainment industry can sometimes foster an environment where offences occur. Allegations alone can tarnish reputations and end careers. If the police do wish to speak to a person about any criminal allegation – no matter the perceived seriousness – they have a right to legal advice. What is said (or not said) and the preservation of crucial evidence at this early stage are essential considerations, and it’s important to have the right legal representation early on.

Apologies and talking to third parties about allegations

When allegations are made there’s often a temptation to resolve matters ‘out of court’ by reconciliation or a settlement of some kind. This might involve making an apology. It’s important to note that this doesn’t prevent any party from going to the police. Days, months and sometimes even years later, apologies can resurface and unravelling what truly happened can be complicated. It is advisable not to speak to anyone in public or private about any criminal allegation given the potential evidential significance of such comments.

Confidentiality Clauses and Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

In an industry under increased scrutiny, organisations are revising their policies on workplace behaviour. Many have established reporting systems and whistleblower protections to safeguard individuals. However, there remains a gap in terms of supervising those most senior and confusion surrounding the management of allegations when made. It’s vital to approach non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses with caution. These agreements cannot obstruct cooperation with criminal investigations or reporting offences to law enforcement agencies. Discouraging reporting could lead to serious allegations, including perverting the course of justice.

Interviewing suspects, witnesses and convicted offenders

Individuals might want to think very carefully about their participation in interviews for ‘true crime’ and related content. Comments made during production could well be admissible in criminal proceedings. Additional issues might emerge where a convicted offender speaks about their offending past. It’s possible that an individual’s comments during the recording of the content could be used as a basis on which to open a new investigation into past conduct, for new, unprosecuted offences. Furthermore, witnesses could be cross examined on relevant comments made during interviews, during any criminal proceedings.  

Props: counterfeit money, imitation firearms, possession of knives

In television shows such as ‘Top Boy’, where the central theme revolves around the dramatic portrayal of London’s gang life, it’s commonplace to incorporate props such as counterfeit currency, imitation firearms, and knives. Those responsible for producing this type of content must possess a clear understanding of the regulations governing the use of these props. Strict adherence to relevant legislation and guidance from the respective police authorities (where applicable) is essential.

DBS checks and immigration/visa issues

Navigating international travel when you have prior criminal convictions or have received disposals like cautions, fixed penalty notices, or community resolutions can be a complex endeavour, especially when touring or accessing various locations is integral to your professional obligations. Often it will be necessary to seek immigration advice to assist if these issues become relevant.

Furthermore, when participating on projects involving children or vulnerable adults, or in certain other situations, you might be required to undergo Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. Police cautions and sometimes even community resolutions can appear on an enhanced DBS check. This could impact your ability to participate in certain projects. 

While this blog offers a glimpse into the challenges that arise, it’s evident that these issues are intricate and multifaceted. Individuals in the entertainment industry understandably prioritise safeguarding their careers, and the income derived from it. Managing reputations, both for individuals and companies, becomes paramount.

Ella Jefferson regularly acts for individuals within the entertainment industry. If you require advice, please get in touch or view all of our Services for the entertainment industry.

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