Suppose I ask a private eye to find out if my wife is having an affair, they do, and she pays them to keep quiet. Is this against the law of my wife and the private investigator?

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    Not sure if it's illegal (= a crime), but it is clearly a violation of the contract between you and the investigator. If someone doesn't fullfill an agreed-on contract because another party pays more, they're liable for the loss. Of course, the loss is hard to quantify in this case, but that's the judges problem, then.
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 9:20
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    If the PI offers the possibility to the wife, then isn't the PI guilty of blackmail?
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 12:54
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    It probably depends on in which way she pays. If she pays him directly to underperform perhaps it is bribery and if the PI takes the money it is probably a breach of contract with the husband. Does she sell something at a very favorable price to someone else (3rd party) in exchange for them to intimidate / distract / sabotage / hire the PI? Then it may be quite hard to prove and perhaps not even illegal. Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 14:28
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    @Flater : I suppose he'd better hire a second PI to keep an eye on the first one, then? How else could he verify that the genuine best effort has been made? Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 13:18
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    @MichaelHall Ah, yes. I misread it. Thanks. Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 9:31

3 Answers 3


It's illegal to "bribe" anyone - the banker, the baker, the candlestick maker.

Perhaps you really mean to ask if the behaviour in your scenario is bribery.

On the face of it, the wife and the private detective seem to have committed offences under the Bribery Act 2010.

The wife, the offence of bribing another person (section 1 Bribery Act), aka 'active bribery': giving a financial advantage (here money) to the private eye to induce or reward the private eye for 'improper performance' of their 'function or activity'.

The private eye, the offence of being bribed (section 2 Bribery Act), aka 'passive bribery': agreeing to and accepting the financial advantage in return for 'improper performance' of their 'function or activity'.

The private eye's 'function or activity' (section 3 Bribery Act) is their work for which they is being paid by the husband to perform in good faith. Section 3 Explanatory Notes.

The private eye's 'improper performance' (section 4 Bribery Act) is the failure to perform the work for the husband according to their contract.

Crown Prosecution and Serious Fraud Office joint guidance on the Bribery Act 2010, improper performance:

... The concept of improper performance (section 4) is central to the general bribery offences and also indirectly to the offence of failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery, since an offence under section 7 requires a general bribery offence to have been committed.

Improper performance involves a breach of an expectation of "good faith", "impartiality" or "trust" (section 3(3) to (5)) in respect of the function or activity carried out. The test of what is expected is a test of what a reasonable person in the United Kingdom would expect in relation to the performance of the type of function or activity concerned (section 5(1)). ...

  • 9
    Of course, if I were trying to defend the wife, I'd replace the word "bribe" with "outbid." Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 16:32
  • 11
    @CristobolPolychronopolis That would only apply if there was not yet a contract. Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 17:21
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    That's clear from the answer. (Seems like nobody on this exchange likes lawyer jokes.) Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 17:29
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    @user66697 In those circumstances the private eye commits fraud.
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 17:40
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    @adam.baker Then the contract would be illegal (and hence void) in the first place, because it is illegal to hire a hitman. The assasin and the surviving partner would be prosecuted for murder.
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 15:31

This would be fraud

(1) A person who, by any deception, dishonestly--

(a) obtains property belonging to another, or

(b) obtains any financial advantage or causes any financial disadvantage,

is guilty of the offence of fraud.

  • 15
    If the PI lies to the client and keeps the client's money then perhaps that is fraud. The wife has not committed fraud though.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 14:31
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    @OrangeDog yes she has - she has caused financial disadvantage to the husband. He is paying for a service which, by her dishonesty, he isn’t getting.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 20:38
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    What deception has she committed? The affair doesn't count, as it has not caused the financial disadvantage.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 22:03
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    @OrangeDog oh, she told the husband she bribed the PI? Why didn’t you say?
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 22:11
  • I think it's only fraud if he takes the contract at the beginning knowing that the wife was going to pay for him not to do it. As described, where's the dishonesty? When the PI and husband create their contract, the PI intended to do the work so no dishonesty there. The wife isn't tricking the PI not to report, she's paying him to abrogate his contract with the husband. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 21:45

There is a business agreement between the husband and the private eye. The husband pays the private eye, the private eye does their best to find certain evidence.

If the private eye takes money in order to not do his job, then he is in breach of contract. Probably can be taken to court for damages. The damages would be at least his fee; but if the husband paid $2,000 for the job and the wife paid $10,000 for not doing it, that might be quite acceptable.

There are laws against interfering with someone's business. For example if the wife talked to her husband and convinced him that the private eye cannot be trusted, she would be interfering with the PIs business and that can be illegal. I cannot see her doing this. She is also encouraging the PI to breach his contract.

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    Tortious interference
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 13:57
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    "Quite acceptable" by whom? Definitely not by the husband.
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 14:35
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    Could the PI return the original client's money and cancel the contract (I assume the wife paid him more, so he still comes out ahead)? He's effectively auctioning his services to the higher bidder.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 15:44
  • The contract is likely provided by the PI. Perhaps it includes a clause that covers this situation and the distraught schmuck client didn’t notice it. Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 22:07
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    The funny thing is, if the husband takes the PI to court it's because he knows the PI has been bribed, and it's a very quick inference that the wife is the one who offered the bribe, and therefore that the wife must have had an affair. So the husband does in fact find out what the PI was contracted to find, and the wife (who paid the PI to stop the husband from finding out) might also sue the PI for breach of contract. This sounds like it should be a satirical short story.
    – kaya3
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 23:29

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