Perverting the Course of Justice

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Perverting the course of justice is a serious criminal offence that can carry a sentence of up to life in prison and whilst life imprisonment is unlikely, it is unusual for the court to impose a penalty other than a prison sentence. There are a plethora of high profile cases that have involved politicians and other supposedly upstanding individuals who, despite their previous good characters, have been unable to convince the court to spare them prison.

As your liberty is almost certainly at stake if facing prosecution for this offence, we urge you to get in touch with one of our lawyers straight away. Whether you have already been charged or if the police have informed you that you are under investigation for the offence, our involvement will bring you a level of peace of mind and a clear strategy for the way forwards.

The Law

The somewhat ancient case of R. v Vreones [1891] 1 Q.B. 360 established the ingredients of the offence of perverting the court of justice. An individual will commit the offence when he/she:

  • Does an act or series of acts;
  • Which has or have a tendency to pervert; and
  • Which is or are intended to pervert;
  • The course of public justice.

What is a “course of justice”?

A “course of justice” must have started in that some form of proceedings have already begun or are imminent.  This is confirmed in the case of R. v Selvage (Pauline Ann) [1982] Q.B. 372 in which it was held that the offence of perverting the course of justice is restricted to acts which interfere with pending or imminent proceedings or investigations. It is worth noting that investigations can include civil investigations as well as those of a criminal nature. The offence is therefore not limited to, for example, lying to the police. It is also applicable to those attempting to affect the outcome of a civil action.

Common Examples of the offence we come across

Providing false driver’s details.

Possibly the most common scenario that you may think is a relatively low level offence, is where a notice of intended prosecution and request for driver details has been sent to the registered owner of a vehicle yet the registered keeper falsely names a person who was not the driver to avoid any penalty for themselves. Any attempt by the recipient to deceive the police or knowingly provide false information would likely be considered as capable of meeting the charging standard for the offence and could result in a charge with the offence.

It is worth noting that there must be a “positive act” if someone is to be charged with the offence. Simply ignoring the request for details would not amount to perverting the course of justice, but rather the much lesser offence of failure to furnish driver’s details. It is only when the false information is supplied that the offence would be committed.

Furthermore, the offence is not limited only to the individual that provides the false information. In cases in which two parties are complicit in the process, they both will likely be charged. The best and most recent example of such a scenario is the case of Chris Huhne and his ex-wife where they both received custodial sentences of 8 months after the former MP’s ex-wife agreed to “take” speeding points for her husband.

Making false statements to the police

This can include saying something to the police during interview which then transpires to be untrue. Other examples include making false police reports. For example, if involved in a car crash and then you report the car to be stolen after the fact in order to avoid any prosecution arising from the accident, you would likely be charged with the offence if the police had suspicion that you were lying.

Making false statements will always be aggravated further if they result in an innocent third party being investigated in relation to the offence.

Concealing evidence

This must relate to a “positive act” of concealment. One example would be to remove/hide evidence from a crime scene when in the full knowledge that a crime had taken place.

Other examples include interfering with witnesses and/or jurors. In any case, the Crown must be able to prove that a positive act of deception took place in order for them to secure a conviction.

What does the prosecution need to prove?

Tendency

The Crown must prove that the accused has committed some act which has a tendency and is intended to pervert the course of public justice. This was confirmed in the case of R. v Rowell (Michael Charles) [1978] 1 W.L.R. 132. The Crown do not need to prove that the accused was successful in either avoiding prosecution or implicating a third party. All they are required to prove is that there was a possibility that the actions of the accused might lead to an incorrect result such as the arrest of an innocent third party or them escaping punishment for an offence they did commit.

Intent

The Crown would have to prove that the accused intended to do something, which, if achieved, would pervert the course of justice. It is sometimes the case that misunderstandings can arise when a registered keeper is asked by the police to name the driver of a vehicle.

We have dealt with cases in which the registered keeper has unwittingly named a third party as the driver of the vehicle at the time and they have subsequently been charged with perverting the course of justice.  In such a circumstance, the client should never be convicted because there was no intent to deceive, it was simply an honest mistake and a misunderstanding.

This does emphasise the importance of being very careful when corresponding with the police and not divulging information unless you are certain that it is correct.

Sentencing

Only in the most exceptional circumstances will an immediate prison sentence be avoided when someone is convicted of the offence.

There is a clear authority on this point which is confirmed in the case of R. v Sheehan-Dinler (Patrick) [2008] EWCA Crim 1341.

More recent case law has suggested that a softer approach can be taken with sentencing, particularly in light of the implementation of the Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences Definitive Guideline which states that, prior to considering whether to impose an immediate custodial sentence, the Court should give consideration to:

  1. The prospect of rehabilitation;
  2. Strong personal mitigation; and
  3. The significant adverse effect that custody would have on third parties

In the case of Regina v Ahjaz Ali [2017] EWCA Crim 2122 the Court of Appeal held that the Crown Court Judge did not give sufficient regard to the above criteria and found that a suspended custodial sentence (no prison) time would have been the more appropriate sentence in the circumstances.

Similarly, the more recent case of R v Twizell [2019] EWCA Crim 356 it was again held that the guidelines were not applied when the defendant was convicted of perverting the course of justice and sentenced to three months imprisonment. The Court of Appeal saw fit to quash the sentence and instead, imposed a suspended custodial sentence of three months.

In both of the above two cases, the Court were convinced that the defendant’s circumstances were “exceptional” hence why they were spared prison. It is still highly likely that a prison sentence will be imposed in the event of a conviction for the offence.  In the case is R. v Ratcliffe [2016] EWCA Crim 27 it was held by the Court of Appeal that cases of this type “almost inevitably” called for custodial sentences.

Alternative charge

On some occasions, the police or the Crown can be persuaded to withdraw the perverting the course of justice charge and lay an alternative charge of obstruction of a police officer. The maximum sentence for such an offence would be a community order and the offence does not carry a custodial sentence.

What to do next

We find that the earlier we are instructed, the more likely it is that we can achieve a positive outcome.

The offence is very serious and one that requires a great level of expertise to consider. We therefore urge you to get in touch with JS Miller Solicitors as soon as possible if you are being investigated for this offence and one of our lawyers will be able to guide you on the process.

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