Perverting the course of justice
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||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2012)|
Perverting the course of justice in English, Canadian, Hong Kong, and Irish law, is a criminal offence in which someone prevents justice from being served on himself or on another party. It is a common law offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Perverting the course of justice can be any of three acts:
Also criminal are:
- conspiring with another to pervert the course of justice, and
- intending to pervert the course of justice.
Statutory versions of the offence exist in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. See, for example, Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), where the maximum penalty is 14 years' imprisonment.
England and Wales
This offence, and the subject matter of the related forms of criminal conspiracy, has been referred to as:
- Perverting the course of justice
- Interfering with the administration of justice
- Obstructing the administration of justice
- Obstructing the course of justice
- Defeating the due course of justice
- Defeating the ends of justice
- Effecting a public mischief
This proliferation of alternative names is "somewhat confusing".
This offence is also sometimes referred to as "attempting to pervert the course of justice". This is potentially misleading. An attempt to pervert the course of justice is a substantive common law offence and not an inchoate offence. It is not a form of the offence of attempt and it would be erroneous to charge it as being contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.
Mode of trial
Section 139 of the Criminal Code of Canada provides for the offence of obstructing justice as follows:
139. (1) Every one who wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding,
- (a) by indemnifying or agreeing to indemnify a surety, in any way and either in whole or in part, or
- (b) where he is a surety, by accepting or agreeing to accept a fee or any form of indemnity whether in whole or in part from or in respect of a person who is released or is to be released from custody,
is guilty of
- (c) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or
- (d) an offence punishable on summary conviction.
(2) Every one who wilfully attempts in any manner other than a manner described in subsection (1) to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
(3) Without restricting the generality of subsection (2), every one shall be deemed wilfully to attempt to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice who in a judicial proceeding, existing or proposed,
- (a) dissuades or attempts to dissuade a person by threats, bribes or other corrupt means from giving evidence;
- (b) influences or attempts to influence by threats, bribes or other corrupt means a person in his conduct as a juror; or
- (c) accepts or obtains, agrees to accept or attempts to obtain a bribe or other corrupt consideration to abstain from giving evidence, or to do or to refrain from doing anything as a juror.
- Jonathan Aitken
- Jeffrey Archer
- Marcus Einfeld, Australian judge
- John Humble, for the Wearside Jack hoax letters and tapes
- Bruce Hyman, the only barrister so convicted in 800 years
- Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan, who were involved in Shannon Matthews' abduction
- Nadine Milroy-Sloan, who knowingly falsely accused Neil Hamilton of rape
- Lionel Murphy, Justice of the High Court of Australia (later reversed on appeal)
- Ali Dizaei, former Metropolitan Police Commander (later quashed, subsequently convicted again at the Crown Court at Southwark)
- Chris Huhne (see R v Huhne and Pryce)
- Compounding a felony
- Compounding treason
- Contempt of Court
- Misprision of felony
- Misprision of treason
- Obstruction of justice
- "CRIMES ACT 1900 - SECT 319 General offence of perverting the course of justice". Austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- This name is used in the statement of offence in the form of indictment approved in R v Williams (K J) 92 Cr App R 158,  Crim LR 205, CA
- The Law Commission. Criminal Law: Offences relating to the Administration of Justice. Working Paper No 62. HMSO. 1975. Paragraph 10 at page 6.
- Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. 1999. Paragraph 28-23 at page 2261.
- R v Williams (K J) 92 Cr App R 158,  Crim LR 205, CA
- "Perverting the Course of Justice. Sentencing Manual. Crown Prosecution Service.
- Criminal Code, s. 139
- BBC News, "Ali Dizaei: Met Police commander jailed for corruption", BBC News Online, (13 February 2012)
- Perjury and Perversion of the Course of Justice Considered (PDF), a primer on the legal details of the offence