Draft sentencing guidelines for offences of perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation published

From: Sentencing Council
Published: Wed Mar 30 2022

Proposed new sentencing guidelines for perverting the course of justice and revised guidelines for witness intimidation in England and Wales were published for consultation today by the Sentencing Council.

Under the proposed guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, judges and magistrates will for the first time have comprehensive guidelines to sentence these two offences.

Currently, there are no guidelines for perverting the course of justice and only limited guidance in the magistrates' courts for witness intimidation. The aim of the new guidelines, which reflect current sentencing practice, is to enable the courts to take a consistent approach to sentencing these offences. The consultation runs from 30 March 2022 to 22 June 2022.

Perverting the course of justice offences cover a wide range of conduct, from giving false information to police officers at a traffic stop, so avoiding prosecution, to fabricating evidence designed to incriminate an innocent person.

Conduct of this kind can hinder or frustrate the work of the police, the prosecution and the courts, which can add to the cost of justice. It can also, potentially, lead to victims being sent to prison wrongly or suffering reputational damage.

Witness intimidation offences include pressuring witnesses to withdraw allegations or witness statements, or not to give evidence in court. This could result in victims and their families fearing to give evidence because of actual violence or threats of violence, causing physical harm or mental distress.

Sentencing Council member, Mrs Justice Juliet May, said:

Perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation are serious offences that strike at the heart of justice: they can delay or even derail criminal investigations; they can cast suspicion on innocent people; and victims and witnesses can feel too scared to make a complaint about a crime they have suffered, or have witnessed.

These offences can waste police and courts' time and cause people wrongly accused of crimes to potentially lose their freedom or suffer reputational damage. In cases of witness intimidation, witnesses can be so terrified they withdraw from proceedings and criminality goes unpunished.

Notes to editors

  1. The guidelines cover two offences: Perverting the course of justice contrary to common law and Witness intimidation under Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
  2. In 2020, around 400 offenders were sentenced for perverting the course of justice under common law, while around 180 offenders were sentenced for witness intimidation.
  3. All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing
  4. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  5. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
  6. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council's effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
  7. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email Kathryn.montague@sentencingcouncil.gov.uk; press.office@sentencingcouncil.gov.uk
Company: Sentencing Council

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