The Sentencing Council have published sentencing guidelines for perverting the course of justice; these come into effect on 1 October 2023. Nathaniel Gadsby, Associate Solicitor in the Crime Team, examines the current position, and the impact these guidelines will have:
Perverting the Course of Justice
This is a serious offence, covering a potentially wide range of different conduct, that can only be tried in the Crown Court, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Perverting the course of justice is committed where a defendant:
- Acts or embarks upon a course of conduct;
- Which has a tendency to, and;
- Is intended to pervert;
- The course of public justice.
Examples of perverting the course of justice include destroying or falsifying evidence, confessing to a crime committed by another person, assisting another person to evade arrest, making false allegations or interfering with witnesses or jurors.
Sentencing prior to 1 October 2023
There are currently no sentencing guidelines for perverting the course of justice. As things stand the sentencing Court takes into account general sentencing principles, as well as previous case-law. The Court of Appeal have previously upheld sentences as high as 12 years’ imprisonment (R v Jones  EWCA Crim 248), for a defendant who had attempted to intimidate a witness in a murder trial involving five defendants. The witness was threatened and offered substantial amounts of money in return for retracting her evidence. On the lower end of the spectrum, The Court of Appeal upheld a sentence of 4 months’ imprisonment for a lorry driver who persuaded a friend to falsely admit to having been the driver of the vehicle in question, in order for the defendant to avoid further penalty points that would have resulted in disqualification (R v Henderson  EWCA Crim 1152).
In 2018 (R v Abdulwahab  EWCA Crim 1399), The Court of Appeal identified a number of factors to be considered when sentencing defendants for perverting the course of justice:
- Conduct intended to pervert the course of justice will invariably call for a custodial sentence. Deterrence is an important aim of sentencing in such cases, albeit this may be achieved in some cases by a relatively short custodial sentence;
- The appropriate sentence depends on the particular circumstances of the specific case, and given the wide range of conduct covered by the offence, sentencing authorities are sometimes of limited use;
- In assessing the seriousness of the offence, the following should be considered;
- The seriousness of the underlying offence;
- The nature of the deceptive conduct;
- The period of time over which it took place;
- Whether it cast suspicion upon or led to the arrest of an innocent person;
- The success or otherwise of the attempt to pervert the course of justice.
Sentencing after 1 October 2023
The new guidelines can be found here, and incorporate many of the considerations identified in the previous case-law, including the seriousness of the underlying offence, the level of planning and the ultimate consequences of the conduct. Whilst the maximum sentence remains life imprisonment, these guidelines provide a range from a high level community order to 7 years’ imprisonment.
The new guidelines have not yet come into force so only time will tell what impact they have, though it appears that they may serve to reduce the sentences imposed for perverting the course of justice. In any event the guidelines are likely to ensure a more consistent approach is taken in relation to this offence. Perverting the course of justice is an extremely complex and serious offence. Our expert solicitors have recently represented defendants on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of various acts allegedly intended to hamper murder investigations. If you require advice in relation to perverting the course of justice, please contact us on on 0203 440 8000 to speak with one of our specialist team.