Being falsely accused of a serious criminal offence is many people’s worse nightmare. If this is you, you are probably feeling frustrated, angry, and scared. You may be reading this whilst on remand in prison, wondering what your options are for providing your innocence. Undergoing a criminal investigation for something that you did not do can feel overwhelmingly unjust. But what should you do if you find yourself in this situation?
This article explains the situations when making false allegations is a criminal offence, how to defend yourself from false allegations, and what the penalty is for making false allegations. Remember that you should always seek the assistance of a solicitor for specialist advice tailored to the facts of your case.
Making a false allegation of a crime against another person can be a criminal defence depending on the circumstances. The two criminal offences that could apply are perverting the course of justice and wasting police time contrary to 5(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1967.
Perverting the course of justice
Perverting the course of justice is a common law offence, which means that it has been developed by subsequent decisions of the courts of England and Wales. A person commits this offence when they commit an action or series of actions that have a tendency to (i.e. could) and are intended to interfere with the administration of justice. For example, giving false testimony in court that you have been assaulted by a police officer. The offence is committed regardless of whether the person successfully alters the course of justice. Therefore, even if the police officer was not actually convicted as a result of your testimony, the charge of perverting the course of justice could still – theoretically – be brought against you.
The offence of perverting the course of justice can be brought in circumstances where an event has taken place from which it can reasonably be expected that an investigation (usually a police investigation) has already started or will be started, or where court proceedings might start or have already started.
Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence triable only on indictment, which means it must be heard in the Crown Court. The CPS are generally cautious about the circumstances in which they bring a prosecution for perverting the course of justice. A prosecution will usually only be brought where the interference with justice has had serious consequences, for example, where an innocent person has been convicted. Therefore, even if a person has made a false allegation against you to the police or in court, in most cases they will not be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
Wasting police time
Wasting police time is another offence that can be brought against someone who has made a false accusation. It occurs where:
The offence of wasting police time can be committed even where the false report was not made to the police. The prosecution must be able to show that the person who made the false report did so intentionally.
Wasting police time is a less serious offence than perverting the course of justice. It is a summary only offence, which means that it is usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court. The charge must be laid within six months of the date of the alleged offence. The police must obtain the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to bring the charge. The police must also consider whether prosecution of the offence is in the public interest. CPS guidance sets out factors that suggest that a prosecution should be brought. These include:
In other, less serious cases, the police are encouraged to find out of court resolutions – such as issuing the suspect with a fixed penalty notice, rather than prosecuting this offence. In reality the majority of false allegations will not result in a charge of wasting police time being brought.
If a person has made a false allegation against you that has resulted in a police investigation being opened, you should seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor without delay.
Even though you know the charge is false, you should take the police investigation seriously. Your criminal defence solicitor will help you gather the evidence that is needed to disprove the allegations. For example, let’s say you have been accused of rape. Providing your forensic evidence or giving witness testimony that the person making the allegation consented to the sexual activity could help secure your acquittal.
Once the case against you has been dropped, you can make enquiries with the police to find out if they intend to charge your false accuser with perverting the course of justice or wasting police time. If the answer is no, you could consider bringing a private prosecution, pursuant to 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. A private prosecution is where you bring the prosecution yourself as a private individual, instead of the prosecution being brought by the CPS. This may be an option that would enable you to obtain justice and accountability for experiencing a false accusation. However, it may be a costly process. You can discuss this with your solicitor.
If you are accused of sexual abuse or any other serious crime, you should instruct a criminal defence solicitor to help prepare your defence as soon as possible.
Your solicitor will help you prove to the criminal justice authorities that the accusation made against you is false. You should provide all of the relevant information and evidence that you have to your solicitor to help prove your account of what happened (or did not happen). Your first priority should be to ensure that your name is cleared in respect of the offence that you have been accused of.
Once your name has been cleared, you can then look at whether you can achieve accountability for the false accusation. Where the false accusation results in the police expending a significant amount of time, and is later proven to be intentionally false, the police may bring a charge of wasting police time. In more serious cases, where you have been prosecuted and convicted based on a false accusation, the false accuser may be charged with perverting the course of justice. However, other than in the most serious of cases, it is rare for the police to prosecute individuals for making false allegations.
Although it may not feel this way when you are undergoing a criminal investigation, the old adage ‘innocent until proven guilty’ means that the burden of proof lies upon the prosecution to find you guilty rather than upon you to prove your innocence.
To achieve a conviction, the prosecution must prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that you have committed the crime that you have been accused of.
However, you can help secure your acquittal by helping your criminal defence solicitor prepare your defence. This could involve contacting witnesses who can testify in your favour, and considering what other evidence could help prove that you are telling the truth. This might include mobile phone records, DNA samples, or evidence of other untruthful statements made by your accuser, which could serve to lessen their credibility.
If you are convicted of perverting the course of justice, you will probably receive a prison sentence. There are no sentencing guidelines published for this offence, but when making the sentencing decision, the court will consider the culpability (blameworthiness) of the offender, and the harm that has been caused by the offence (for example, was a person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned?)
The punishment for wasting police time could be a custodial sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment and/ or a fine.
The police can, as an alternative, issue a fixed penalty notice, which means that the offender will need to pay a fine of £90, but will avoid a criminal conviction.
If you have been wrongfully accused of a criminal offence, call Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our experienced team of criminal defence solicitors are here to represent you without judgement. We will provide you with robust advice on your options, and help you secure the best possible outcome. Contact us for a no obligation consultation today.