Many Defendants do not realize how serious their conduct is before things go wrong. A classic example of this is the offence of Perverting the Course of Justice. Defendants who are otherwise law abiding people get caught out telling stupid lies to the Police and Courts without realizing the dire consequences of getting caught.
Take for example the well known case of Regina -v- Walker from 2015. In this case the Appellant was caught speeding, he had points on his licence already and would probably have been banned if he had accepted the offence. Instead of hiring a good lawyer he enlisted his mother (age 71) to ‘take the points’ for him. He returned the Notice of Intended Prosecution in her name saying that she had been the driver, she willingly signed the notice. The Appellant was 45 and had no previous convictions. He and his mother were caught out and they were both indicted for Perverting the Course of Justice.
His aged mother received a suspended sentence of imprisonment and he received a prison term of six months imprisonment reduced to four months on appeal, a disastrous result for someone who had never before been in trouble with the Courts conducting what they no doubt thought was a harmless lie. The problem is of course that not only does such a conviction mean having to serve a period of imprisonment but a Defendant’s prospect of finding or maintaining any professional employment following such a conviction is marginal, regulators will shy away from allowing an individual to practice in any field such as law, accounting, finance, medicine or teaching.
It therefore goes without saying that the consequences are serious, therefore if a person finds themselves accused of such an offence a specialist lawyer should be sought. In this article I will look at the law in respect of Perverting the Course of Justice and potential defence and sentences upon conviction.
Perverting the Course of Justice is a common law misdemeanor, the case of R v Vreones outlines the ‘ingredients’ of the offence that a prosecution must establish before it is successful; one must:
- act or embark on a course of conduct,
- which has a tendency to, and,
- is intended to pervert
- the course of public justice
If you are accused of or are worried about being prosecuted for this offence it is important to seek legal advice as things are more complex than they first appear. For example In respect of ‘tendency’- an act done with the intention of perverting the course of justice is not enough; the act must also have that tendency. To establish this the authorities do not have to show that the tendency or possibility in fact happened; there must merely be the possibility that what the accused if not corrected might lead to an injustice occurring.
It is also worth noting that an ulterior intention of the defendant in respect of their motives can be largely irrelevant, for example where a person makes a knowingly false statement in pursuance of court proceedings but only does so in order to protect someone else, this will still be perverting the course of justice, the laudability of the motive being held to have been largely irrelevant: Att.-Gen.’s Reference (No. 1 of 2002).
One area which gives some people trouble is what constitutes ‘the course of public justice’. The answer is found in R v Selvage and Morgan  where the Court of Appeal gives the classic definition:
“... conduct which relates to judicial proceedings, civil or criminal, whether or not they have yet been instituted but which are within the contemplation of the wrong-doer whose conduct was designed to affect the outcome of them. That conduct includes giving false information to the police with the object of among other things putting the police on a false trail ...”
So even if no offence has actually been committed, the interference with an investigation can amount to perverting the course of justice.
Examples of Perverting the Course of Justice
It is clear that there can be many ways of committing this offence, below are some of the most common:
Publishing things to try to prejudice a fair trial
The Press and members of the public should be careful what is written about Court proceedings, especially online. The publication of matters that are intended to prejudice the trial of a case at Court can be an offence of perverting the course of public justice: R. v. Fisher (1811). Although this is an old case the implications for those posting on popular social media are relevant today and such postings attach as much liability are that in traditional print media. The fact that matters may be published under a pseudonym will often not prevent detection and arrest.
Making false allegations/retracting truthful allegations
This is of course includes trying to get a person in trouble with the police, arrested or charged falsely with any crime: Macdaniel’s case (1755) and R. v. Rispal (1762).
In respect of intent, it is enough that the accuser intended that the false allegation should be taken seriously by the police; the prosecution do not need to prove an intention that anybody should actually be arrested. It therefore logically follows that the ‘course of justice’ includes criminal investigation; therefore, to expose to the mere risk of criminal proceedings can be enough is to prejudice the course of public justice. In more minor cases it is possible to argue that where a false allegation is of a generalised nature and there is no risk beyond a theoretical risk, the prosecution should accept pleas to a charge of wasting police time, contrary to section 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967
Concealing the commission of an offence
Concealing the commission of an offence with the intent to do so is an offence regardless of whether proceedings are contemplated or have been commenced. This can include concealing the true identity of the offender such as in cases where persons ‘take points’ for another motorist. It does not matter that a person is being wrongly punished for the offence, the crime is rooted in the intent that the true perpetrator evades liability. However, it should be noted that the mere removal of yourself from the scene of a crime does not amount to perverting the course of justice for example a motorist who left the scene of an accident in order to avoid being breathalysed could not be guilty of this offence e.g. R. v. Jabber
Obstructing the police
Unusually it does not matter whether the initial arrest was lawful or not, if one takes deliberate and intentional steps to frustrate a police investigation you may be guilty of this offence. This applies especially in respect of statutory procedures such as a breath test procedure. Other examples can be using a radar jammer or licence plate ‘swapper’ on a motor vehicle.
Assisting others to evade arrest
If a person knows that another is wanted by the police and then goes on to assist that person to evade arrest, regardless of their motive they will be potentially guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice:
R. v. Thomas and Ferguson.
Interfering with witnesses, evidence and jurors
Offering inducements to Witnesses not to give evidence or to ‘drop’ a case against a defendant will be capable of perverting the course of justice even when the person offering the inducements is not the defendant them self. This therefore means that the law concentrates upon the effect of the perverting and the intent rather than his/her ‘motive’ for doing so. Where more than one person forms an agreement to carry out this course of conduct it can be indicted as a conspiracy. If a witness agrees to take the inducement both them and the person offering the inducement can be guilty of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Some are surprised to learn that the fact that no criminal proceedings have been instituted does not prevent a person from being described as a witness for the purposes of liability.
Interfering with evidence or potential evidence is also an offence as is the disposal of potential evidence.
The Court of Appeal have said on repeated occasions that prison sentences will be imposed in all but the most exceptional cases for example Att.-Gen.’s Reference (No. 17 of
2008). The below is a very rough guide for the kind of sentences that are handed down, the exact sentence will always depend upon the exact facts of the particular case-
- tampering with witnesses- between 4 months and 24 months, but have been up to 12 years in cases where witnesses are seriously threatened.
- making a false allegation of crime, where an innocent person is arrested, from 4 months to 12 months
- planting material on another person, so that the person is prosecuted and falsely convicted will depend upon the severity of the offence and the risk to the person accused but for serious crimes, the sentences can be up 10 to 12 years following trial.
Defences to perverting the course of justice
It is important to study the underlying facts of the alleged offence and look at the ‘ingredients’ of the offence. Does the prosecution have the correct defendant? What was the person’s intent? Would it amount to perversion? Was the course of justice affected? Was there such a ‘tendency’?
All of the above would be studied by a competent lawyer in the context of the factual matrix of the case under consideration. For what is seemingly a straightforward area of law the underlying law is actually relatively complex and seemingly small details can give real avenues of success for the experienced Barrister.
If you are accused of the offence of Perverting the Course or you are concerned that you may be implicated in such an offence it is important that you receive expert legal advice as soon as possible. Often ‘innocent’ third parties such as Mr Walker’s aged mother can be caught on the wrong side of the law with the best of intentions.
Quentin Hunt is a Barrister with a wealth of experience dealing with case of Perverting the Course of Justice and has an excellent track record in providing his clients with a superb service coupled with a personal touch. You may contact Quentin for a no obligation conversation about your case.