Perverting the course of justice is an offence committed when a person prevents justice from being served on themselves or on another party. In England and Wales it is a common law offence, carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Statutory versions of the offence exist in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. The Scottish equivalent is defeating the ends of justice, while the South African counterpart is defeating or obstructing the course of justice. A similar concept, obstruction of justice, exists in United States law.
England and Wales
Perverting the course of justice can be any of three acts:
- Fabricating or disposing of evidence
- Intimidating or threatening a witness or juror
- Intimidating or threatening a judge
Also criminal are:
- conspiring with another to pervert the course of justice, and
- intending to pervert the course of justice
This offence, and the subject matter of the related forms of criminal conspiracy, have 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 has been described as "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.
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.
In New South Wales, the equivalent offence is set out in Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). The maximum penalty is 14 years' imprisonment. In 1985 Murray Farquhar, the former Chief Stipendiary Magistrate of New South Wales, was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice to have charges against Kevin Humphreys dismissed and sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison. In 2009 Marcus Einfeld, a former Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, was sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison after pleading guilty to making a false statement with intent to pervert the course of justice.
- Jonathan Aitken, a politician and British government cabinet minister – perjury and perverting the course of justice
- Jeffrey Archer, an English author and former politician – perjury and perverting the course of justice
- Ali Dizaei, a former commander in London's Metropolitan Police Service – initially found guilty of perverting the course of justice and gaoled; later released on appeal; subsequently re-convicted
- Chris Huhne, a journalist and former British government cabinet minister and his former wife, Vicky Pryce – perverting the course of justice (see R v Huhne and Pryce)
- John Humble, a former labourer – perverting the course of justice
- Bruce Hyman, an English barrister – perverting the course of justice
- Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan – found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, and perverting the course of justice
- Marcus Einfeld, an Australian retired Federal Court and NSW, WA and ACT Supreme Court judge – perjury and perverting the course of justice, for lying relative to a speeding ticket
- Lionel Murphy, an Australian former politician and High Court of Australia judge – initially found guilty of perverting the course of justice; the NSW Appeal Court subsequently quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial; subsequently found not guilty
- Compounding a felony
- Compounding treason
- Contempt of court
- Misprision of felony
- Misprision of treason
- United Nations Convention against Corruption
- "HMA v RITA HEYSTER - Judgments & Sentences - Judiciary of Scotland". www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk.
- "Services - SAPS (South African Police Service)". www.saps.gov.za.
- 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" Archived 6 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Sentencing Manual. Crown Prosecution Service.
- Branch, Legislative Services (18 December 2018). "Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Criminal Code". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca.
- Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s 319 General offence of perverting the course of justice .
- Golder, Hilary. "Farquhar, Murray Frederick (1918–1993)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
- Einfeld v R  NSWCCA 87 (5 May 2010), Court of Criminal Appeal (NSW, Australia).
- "Aitken jailed for 18 months". The Guardian. London. 8 June 1999. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- White, Michael (20 July 2001). "Political chancer with lots of fizz". The Guardian.
- Rawnsley, Andrew (22 July 2001). "Shepherd's pie and shampagne, anyone?". The Observer.
- Hoggart, Simon (28 July 2001). "Drink the Krug (but avoid the shepherd's pie)". The Guardian.
- "Ali Dizaei: Met Police commander jailed for corruption". BBC News. 13 February 2012.
- Davies, Caroline; Addley, Esther (4 February 2013). "Chris Huhne facing jail sentence after admitting perverting course of justice". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
- "Vicky Pryce guilty over Chris Huhne speeding points". BBC News. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- "Man admits 'Ripper' hoax charges". BBC News. 20 March 2006. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
- "Account of Hyman´s conviction". BBC News. 6 August 2007.
- "Shannon Matthews' mother guilty of kidnapping own daughter". The Guardian. 4 December 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
- R v Einfeld  NSWSC 119, Supreme Court (NSW, Australia).
- Galligan, Brian (2012). "Murphy, Lionel Keith (1922–1986)" (hardcopy). Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
- Perjury and Perversion of the Course of Justice Considered (PDF), a primer on the legal details of the offence.
- Media related to Perverting the course of justice at Wikimedia Commons