Perverting the course of justice is a common offence and you have probably heard the name of it before (especially if you watch police dramas on TV). But if you stand accused of this offence, you will want to know exactly what it is that you have been accused of doing, and what might happen if you end up going to court. This article gives an overview of the offence of perverting the course of justice, including examples. It explains the sentence that you are likely to receive for this offence, and the defences that might be available to you. By getting a basic understanding of this offence and the options open to you if you are charged with it, you stand better prepared to compile your defence.
Perverting the course of justice is a common law offence. This means that it is not set out in statute but rather it has been developed over the years by decisions of the courts. It comes about when an event has taken place from which it can reasonably be expected that:
For example, if a house burns down, this is an event from which you would expect a police investigation to follow, and, depending on the cause of the fire, it would be reasonable to expect that civil and/or criminal court proceedings would be likely to occur after the fact.
In these circumstances, perverting the course of justice occurs where a person performs an action or a series of actions that has a tendency to (i.e. could) and is intended to interfere with the administration of justice, regardless of whether they are successful in doing so.
Continuing with the burned house example, a person who made a knowingly false allegation of arson against another person could be found guilty of perverting the course of justice. The offence is made out regardless of whether the person wrongfully accused was actually arrested, because the defendant’s actions have created a risk of injustice occurring.
The motivation of the person for perverting the course of justice is not a relevant factor in determining their guilt. In other words, it doesn’t matter why you interfered – the fact that you did is enough to convict.
Perverting the course of justice is reserved for situations where the interference with the administration of justice has serious consequences. To determine this, courts ask questions like:
If you committed the offence as part of a group of two or more people, you might be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence that can only be tried on indictment, which means that it is always heard in the Crown Court. The maximum sentence is life sentence and/or a fine. If convicted, the person will usually receive a prison sentence.
There are currently no specific guidelines for sentencing for the offence of perverting the course of justice. When considering what sentence to give, general sentencing guidance suggests that the judge will first look at relevant court judgments on sentencing, and sentencing guidelines for other similar offences.
The judge will then consider the culpability (blameworthiness) of the offender. For example, to what extent was their behaviour pre-meditated? It will also look at the harm and potential harm caused by the offending. This involves considering the impact of the interference upon the administration of justice. For example, could it have resulted in an innocent man being wrongfully imprisoned?
The judge should then take into account aggravating factors such as previous convictions for similar offences by the offender. The judge must also consider mitigating factors such as a display of remorse by the defendant or previous good character.
Next, the judge must decide if the sentence should be reduced for the defendant’s cooperation with the prosecution, or the making of a guilty plea. The judge will also assess the dangerousness of the offender. Where the sentence is for more than one offence, the judge should assess whether the sentence is just and reasonable looking at the totality of offences. Finally, the judge will consider whether the sentence should be reduced to account for time spent on tagged curfew bail.
Perverting the course of justice is a complex offence, and defences are a complicated area of the law, so you should seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor if you are considering using one.
Defences to perverting the course of justice often involve the intent of the defendant. For the offence to be made out, the defendant must have deliberately intended to interfere with the administration of justice. Say you gave false information to the police. Were you aware that it was false at the time? If not, then you could rely on the defence that your interference with the course of justice was not intentional.
The offence requires more than simply inaction on the part of the defendant; it requires a deliberate course of action. If you simply stayed silent, rather than offering a correct version of events, you may be able to rely upon the defence that you did not embark upon a course of conduct.
You cannot be accused of perverting the course of justice for enforcing your rights as an accused person. For example, you cannot be charged with perverting the course of justice for making no comment during a police interview; refusing to be interviewed prior to arrest; refusing to be interviewed prior to the arrival of your solicitor; pleading not guilty; or requesting further information or clarification from the police before agreeing to comment.
In some circumstances, you may be able to rely on a ‘general defence’, including:
Exactly how these defences apply to perverting the course of justice is complex and sometimes not all these defences will be available. A criminal defence solicitor will be able to advise you based on the specifics of your case.
If you or someone that you care about has been charged with perverting the course of justice, Stuart Miller Solicitors are here to help. Our specialist team of criminal defence lawyers will provide you with expert advice and guidance, tailored to your case. For a complex and serious offence such as perverting the course of justice, instructing the right lawyer can make a huge difference to the outcome of your case. To arrange a friendly no-obligation consultation, get in touch today.