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What is perverting the course of justice?

Perverting the course of justice is an English common law crime involving one of a number of actions which are designed to interfere with the administration of justice. This crime is triable on indictment only. Instances of other statutory crimes, such as perjury, fraud or witness tampering can also amount to perverting the course of justice. A similar statutory crime called obstruction of justice is enforced by the American legal system.  It is a serious criminal offence to pervert the course of justice.

In order to pervert the course of justice a positive act to actually do this is required. Inaction in itself is not a sufficient ground to use for this charge. 

In order to pervert the course of course of justice any one of three acts may be carried out. These are:

  1. Intimidating or threatening a case witness or juror

  2. Intimidating or threatening a judge

  3. Disposing of or fabricating of evidence

Related crimes such as perjury are charged under a separate statute, in this instance, perjury statute.

Intimidation – What constitutes this?

Intimidation is defined as:

Making threats to harm someone, acts to harm them, physical and financial harm, acts and threats against a third party e.g. a relative of the case witness, with the purpose of deferring the witness from giving evidence in court or from reporting the crime in the first instance.

Disposing of or fabricating of evidence – what constitutes this? 

Any evidence which is linked to a case is highly important and must not be tampered with or damaged in any form. Disposing of evidence simply means completely getting rid of evidence for example throwing something away which is vital to solving the case. Disposing of or fabricating of evidence is essentially perverting the course of justice.

Perjury

Perjury is another way of perverting the course of justice –  by section 1(1) of the Perjury Act 1911, this is when" a lawfully sworn witness or interpreter in judicial proceedings wilfully makes a false statement which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, and which is material in the proceedings” Thus the  act of perjury is to give a false and corrupt statement which you know is not legitimate.

This particular offence is only triable on indictment (a statement that indicates something is wrong or someone is to blame) and does carry a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment and/or a hefty fine. 

A conviction for perjury cannot be solely based on the evidence of one witness as to the falsity of any statement. There must be some other evidence for a example a letter written by the defendant contradicting their own evidence – this is sufficient if supported by a single witness.  A witness who tells the court something which he knows to be untrue, even if it later emerges to be true after all is still guilty of perjury.

Lies in the context of the police station 

This is another way that the court of justice can be perverted and is where a solicitor or legal representative knowingly assists a client in deceiving the police.  

Under no circumstances should a legal representative or solicitor allow the client to mislead the police, if the client makes an admission to a legal advisor then they must advise the client that if they wish to wrongfully mislead the police by making a written or oral statement that they can no longer act as their legal advisor. 

It is unethical for a legal advisor to assist any client who insists on lying to the police. 

If the client gives any answers in the interview which the legal advisor knows to be untrue, he/she must stop the order and advise the client. 

If the legal advisor does decide that they can no longer act as the client’s legal advisor then he/she must withdraw in a way that does not indicate to the police the reason for withdrawing. The legal advisor should inform the custody officer that another legal advisor is needed without in any way revealing the reason.

Each of the following matters must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the Police to prove their case at Court:

Sentencing

The Crown prosecution Service (CPS) sentencing guidelines for perversion of justice recommends a minimum sentences of four months and maximum sentences of one to two years per incident. Specific perjury and witness intimidation statutes permit longer sentences and in theory the offence of perverting the course of justice can carry a penalty of life imprisonment. However there have not been any sentences above 10 years that have been passed in the last century for this offence.

Defences

There are a number of possible defences to perverting the course of justice including:

Notable cases

Some of the most high-profile convictions in recent history for perverting the course of justice include:

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