Perverting the course of justice

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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, Fiji, Ireland, and New Zealand. The Scottish equivalent is defeating the ends of justice, although charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice are also raised in Scotland, [1] while the South African counterpart is defeating or obstructing the course of justice. [2] A similar concept, obstruction of justice, exists in United States law.


England and Wales

Doing an act tending and intending to pervert the course of public justice [3] is an offence under the common law of England and Wales.

Perverting the course of justice can be any of three acts:

Also criminal are:

This offence, and the subject matter of the related forms of criminal conspiracy, have been referred to as:

This proliferation of alternative names has been described as "somewhat confusing". [5]

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. [6]

This offence is triable only on indictment. [7]


In Canada, the equivalent offence is referred to as "obstructing justice". It is set out in § 139 of the Criminal Code:

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. [8]


In New South Wales, the equivalent offence is set out in Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). [9] 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. [10] 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. [11]

International Criminal Court

In 2020, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda described attempted interference with ICC witnesses in the Kenya investigation as perverting the course of justice under Article 70 of the Rome Statute, which defines the legal context of the ICC. Arrest warrants were issued against three people for their alleged attempts to make witnesses withdraw statements or refuse to testify to the court. [12]

Notable convictions


See also

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  2. "Services - SAPS (South African Police Service)".
  3. 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, [1991] Crim LR 205, CA
  4. The Law Commission. Criminal Law: Offences relating to the Administration of Justice. Working Paper No 62. HMSO. 1975. Paragraph 10 at page 6.
  5. Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. 1999. Paragraph 28-23 at page 2261.
  6. R v Williams (K J) 92 Cr App R 158, [1991] Crim LR 205, CA
  7. "Perverting the Course of Justice". Sentencing Manual. Crown Prosecution Service. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014.
  8. Branch, Legislative Services (18 December 2018). "Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Criminal Code".
  9. Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s 319 General offence of perverting the course of justice .
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  12. Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, following the voluntary surrender and transfer to the Court of Paul Gicheru in relation to alleged offences against the administration of justice in the Kenya Situation, International Criminal Court, 4 November 2020, Wikidata   Q125867616, archived from the original on 10 May 2024
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  17. "Ali Dizaei: Met Police commander jailed for corruption". BBC News . 13 February 2012.
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