Perverting the course of justice is an extremely serious criminal offence. A charge of perverting the course of justice can arise during any type of criminal investigation, from complex murder cases to straightforward burglaries. No matter what the subject of the investigation, the offence of perverting the course of justice should be taken no less seriously. The consequences of a conviction can be severe.
What does perverting the course of justice mean?
Perverting the course of justice is a wide-ranging term, but the offence refers to an act intended to falsely impact the outcome of a criminal case. The CPS defines it as any act “which has a tendency to pervert (ie. mislead) – or is intended to pervert – the course of public justice”. By this definition virtually any attempt, whether by the accused or somebody else, to bring about the evasion of justice is categorised under the offence of perverting the course of justice.
Because the definition of perverting the course of justice is broad, acts which come under this category range from relatively low-level offences, such as giving false driver details after speeding, to more serious offences such as a false rape allegation. While these may vary in seriousness, the offence itself does not.
Examples of perverting the course of justice include:
- Concealing evidence from police
- Tampering with evidence
- Giving false information during a police interview
- Assisting someone else in the evasion of arrest
- Intimidation of witnesses during a court case
- Interference with jurors during a court case
How is perverting the course of justice proven?
For a charge of perverting the course of justice to be brought, the outcome of the criminal case in question does not actually have to have been impacted. Any attempt at perverting the course of justice is sufficient to prove the offence, as long as it can be demonstrated that the act took place and could have impacted a case’s outcome.
How serious is perverting the course of justice
Perverting the course of justice is an indictable-only offence, meaning that it can only be heard in the Crown Court. Other indictable-only offences include murder, manslaughter, robbery and rape. This gives some indication of the seriousness with which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) treats allegations of perverting the course of justice.
What are the sentencing guidelines for perverting the course of justice?
When sentencing for an offence of perverting the course of justice, the court will take into account the nature of the criminal case which was interfered with, and the consequences (or possible consequences) of that interference.
Perverting the course of justice is a common law offence, the maximum possible sentence for which is life imprisonment and/or a fine. A prison sentence will be imposed for perverting the course of justice in the majority of cases, but the current CPS guidelines recommend an average sentence length of between four and 36 months. The court may also impose a fine, a suspended sentence or a community order.
Driving offences and perverting the course of justice
Motoring offences such as speeding might be considered to be at the lower end of the range of criminal offences that an accusation of perverting the course of justice can be linked to.
However, they should not be considered to be any less serious. 12-month prison sentences are routinely imposed by the CPS for perverting the course of justice in relation to motoring offences.
Examples of perverting the course of justice in relation to a motoring offence include:
- Falsely claiming to have been the driver at the time of an offence
- Denying being the behind the wheel at the time of an offence
- Taking penalty points for somebody else
- Obstructing the police
- Concealing a motoring offence from police
Is perverting the course of justice the same as wasting police time?
No. Wasting police time is the lesser offence which constitutes anything that “causes any wasteful employment of the police”, whether directly in relation to a criminal case or not.
It is a summary-only offence which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
Is perjury the same as perverting the course of justice?
Perjury is when a witness (or interpreter) in legal proceedings knowingly makes a false statement which may affect the outcome of the case.
It is therefore categorised as a form of perverting the course of justice, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.
What to do if you are accused of perverting the course of justice
The consequences of a conviction for perverting the course of justice can be life-changing. If you are accused of perver ting the course of justice, it is vital that you seek expert legal help at the earliest possible stage.
At Lawtons our team of highly experienced legal representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can help guide you through the whole process and will always work with you to ensure the best possible outcome in your individual case.
Get in touch with us today for expert legal advice and assistance by calling 0333 577 0522.
Note: This guide is intended to give general information only and not intended to be used as the basis upon which advice is given nor should it be relied upon as giving advice specific to a case or individual.Lawtons do not accept liability for anyone using this guide. Should you require specific advice in connection with a real case or situation, please contact us so we can provide specific legal advice and assistance.
About the author
As director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, Nick Titchener is a dedicated and experienced criminal solicitor. He has handled many difficult cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s considered and methodical approach allows him to thrive on complex legal cases. Lawtons, of which Nick oversees the overall management, is a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches in London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.