Perverting the Course of Justice
Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence. It can only be tried on indictment and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The offence is committed where a person:
- does an act (a positive act or series of acts is required; mere inaction is insufficient);
- which has a tendency to pervert; and
- which is intended to pervert the course of public justice.
The course of justice includes the police investigation of a possible crime (it is not necessary for legal proceedings to have begun). A false allegation which risks the arrest or wrongful conviction of an innocent person is enough. The word pervert can mean “alter” but the behaviour does not have to go that far – any act that interferes with an investigation or causes it to head in the wrong direction may tend to pervert the course of justice. All the prosecution needs to prove is that there is a possibility that what the complainant has done “without more” might lead to a wrongful consequence, such as the arrest of an innocent person (Murray (1982) 75 Cr. App. R. 58).
Intention is not the same as motive. However, the motive of the complainant is likely to be important if the public interest stage is reached. The prosecution must prove an intention either to pervert the course of justice or to do something which, if achieved, would pervert the course of justice. All that is necessary is proof of knowledge of all the circumstances, and the intentional doing of an act which has a tendency, when objectively viewed, to pervert the course of justice.
Where the prosecution case is that a false allegation has been made, all that is required is that the person making the false allegation intended that it should be taken seriously by the police. It is not necessary to prove that she / he intended that anyone should actually be arrested (Cotter  2 Cr. App. R. 762).