What is Perverting the Course of Justice NSW?
Whilst most individuals can recognise the phrase “perverting the course of justice,” its meanings and ramifications are lost on many. Accusations of perjury and perverting the course of justice are both highly serious offences within NSW, seen as a disservice to the fundamentals of our justice system and the general community. Due to the severity of the offence, it often carries grave penalties, and as such, if an individual finds themselves charged with this offence, it is integral that they understand the accusations made against them as well as seek the advice of an experienced criminal lawyer.
In accordance with the Crimes Act 1900, to ‘pervert the course of justice’ means any act that obstructs, prevents, perverts or defeats the course of justice or the administration of the law.
Section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 states that the general offence of perverting the course of justice refers to “A person who does any act, or makes any omission, intending in any way to pervert the course of justice, is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.”
Examples of the offence
Examples of the general offence of perverting the course of justice may include:
- Attempting to bribe a police officer, judicial officer or member of the jury
- Falsely swearing or declaring that another person was responsible for an offence
- Using another person’s phone or email to manufacture a defence to a crime
- Encouraging another person to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit or provide a false alibi or false testimony;
- Pressuring or persuading a person or witness to not give evidence in court.
Under NSW criminal law, various additional offences are outlined regarding the perversion of justice that are all treated with varied severity and are liable to different punishments. These include:
As outlined under section 314 of the Crimes Act 1900, an individual is guilty of a criminal offence if they have “made an accusation intending a person to be the subject of an investigation of an offence, knowing that other person to be innocent of the offence”. This carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.
Under section 315 of the Crimes Act 1900, if an individual is found guilty of the general charge of ‘hindering investigation,’ they can be sentenced to a maximum term of 7 years.
Section 315A states, “ person who threatens to do or cause, or who does or causes, any injury or detriment to any other person intending to influence any person not to bring material information about an indictable offence to the attention of a police officer or other appropriate authority is liable to imprisonment for 7 years.”
Concealing serious indictable offence
An adult can be found guilty of a criminal offence under section 316 if they:
- “know or believe that a serious indictable offence has been committed by another person, and
- Knows or believes that he/she has information that may be of material assistance in the prosecution or conviction of the offender for that offence, and
- Fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the NSW police force or another appropriate authority”
This crime can carry a maximum punishment of 5 years imprisonment if the serious indictable offence which they have concealed carries a charge of over 20 years imprisonment.
Concealing child abuse offence
In accordance with section 316A, it is an offence for an adult who knows that a child abuse offence has been committed and has information that might assist police in arresting or prosecuting the offender to fail to bring that information to the police without reasonable excuse. Those found guilty are liable to a maximum charge of 2 years imprisonment.
Tampering with evidence
It is an offence to tamper with evidence or use fabricated evidence with the intent to mislead a judicial tribunal in a proceeding. This offence is punishable with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
Where will my case be heard
Charges for perverting the course of justice are classified as ‘Table 1 Indictable Offences’, meaning that either the prosecution or the accused may elect to have the matter dealt with in the District Court before a judge and jury. If neither party elects to have the matter heard in a higher court, the matter will be heard before a magistrate in the local court, resulting in a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
Is perverting the course of justice an indictable offence?
An indictable offence is any offence with a maximum penalty of 2 or more years imprisonment. By nature, the charge of the general offence of perverting the court of justice is an indictable offence as it carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. This charge is a ‘table 1’ indictable offence, meaning it can either be finalised in the local or the district court, depending on what is elected by the prosecution.
If an individual is found guilty of the general charge of perverting the course of justice, they are liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment; however, this differs for the alternate offences listed above. In the sentencing of an offender, the judge or magistrate will consider the offence’s circumstances and the offender’s history in determining an appropriate penalty. They can exercise their judicial discretion in sentencing the offender to any of the following:
- Section 10 dismissal
- Conditional Release Order
- Community Correction Order
- Intensive Correction Order (ICO)
- Section 9 Good Behaviour Bond
If you find yourself charged with perverting the course of justice or a related offence, it is imperative you contact experienced criminal lawyers such as the team at Hamilton Janke Lawyers to assist you with your legal matter. With years of experience and success in similar matters, the team can provide you with expert advice on possible defences relevant to the circumstances of your case that, if successful, may result in an acquittal or a mitigated sentence.
Common defences to a charge of perverting the course of justice include:
- No Intent; The accused were not intending to pervert the course of justice
- Duress; The accused were coerced into acting a certain way resulting in the criminal offence
- Necessity; The accused acted in a necessary way to avoid more dire consequences
- Self-Defence; The accused actions were for the protection of themselves, another person or property
If you choose to plead guilty to the charge of perverting the course of justice in NSW, you agree with and accept responsibility for the offence with which you are charged. In these circumstances, the charges will progress straight to sentencing before either a judge or local court magistrate depending on whether the matter was elected to be heard on indictment.
If you choose to enter a guilty plea, doing this at the earliest possible opportunity will provide the best possible outcome in sentencing. This will mean your case progresses straight to sentencing, with a maximum 25% sentencing discount for an early plea.
Pleading not guilty
If you disagree with the charges made against you, you have the option to plead not guilty. Upon entering a not-guilty plea, you will not be convicted of the offence unless the prosecution can prove the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you choose to enter a not-guilty plea, the matter will likely proceed to a trial in which your case will be heard before a local court magistrate, a district or supreme court judge, and a panel of 12 jurors. This allows you to provide a defence to the charges made against you if you choose to do so. In these circumstances, an experienced criminal lawyer must guide you through the criminal proceedings and ensure you receive the best outcome.
Our team at Hamilton Janke Lawyers can offer expert advice and 24/7 support during this time. We can advise on the various possible defences to fraud charges that may apply to individual circumstances.
Burden of Proof
As perverting the course of justice is a criminal offence, within NSW, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution. This means the prosecution must prove the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt for the accused to be found guilty.
To establish this offence, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- You engaged in an act or made an omission, and
- By that act or omission, you intended to pervert the course of justice
If the prosecution cannot prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused will be found not guilty and acquitted of all charges.
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