The police may charge a person with “Preventing the Course of Justice” where it finds that he/she is doing an act which is obstructing, preventing or defeating the course of justice or the administration of the law.
An attempt to bribe the police or a judicial officer, falsely swear or declare that another person was responsible for an offence or even threaten or intimidate another to make or change his/her statement to the police may constitute an act which is preventing the course of justice. We previously covered the offence of perverting course of justice in this article.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ‘PREVENTING THE COURSE OF JUSTICE’?
Section 312 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (‘Act’) defines the term to mean obstructing, preventing, preventing or defeating the course of justice or the administration of law”
Even as the definition stands as above, the NSW Court of Appeal has interpreted the scope of “preventing the course of justice” differently in two distinct cases. While on one hand, in the case of Enfield v R (2008) 252 ALR 375, it has held that the words “administration of the law” should be construed in the traditional sense as applying to the “administration of the civil and criminal law by courts and tribunal”. On the other hand, in the case of R v OM  NSWCCA 109, it has held that the scope of the section “covered conduct designed to deflect the police from prosecuting the accused or from adducing evidence of the true facts despite the fact that no judicial proceedings had been commenced at the time provided that the accused contemplated the possibility of commencement of proceedings against him.”
From the above it can be inferred that both, acts/conduct of a party with the police, i.e before the commencement of judicial proceedings and acts/conduct of a part during judicial proceedings fall within the scope of the section. In this regard, the finding of the High Court of Australia in the case of R v Beckett (2015) 325 ALR 385 is relevant. The High Court in this case held that the scope of the section extends to “actions done with the intention of frustrating or deflecting the course of justice that the accused contemplates may possibly be instituted.” Further, it held that the scope of the offence was not limited to conduct that is intended to prevent an existing course of justice.
WHAT IS THE MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT FOR THE OFFENCE?
Section 319 of the Act states that if a person does any act, or makes any omission, intending in any way to prevent the course of justice, he/she shall be liable to imprisonment for 14 years.
WHAT DOES THE PROSECUTION MUST PROVE?
The prosecution must prove each of the following beyond reasonable doubt:
- The accused did the act, or made an omission
- At the time of doing the act or omission it was the intention of the accused in any way to obstruct, prevent, prevent or defeat the course of justice.
It is important to note that the High Court of Australia in the case of R v Beckett has held that the liability under section 319 hinges on the intention to prevent the course of justice and not upon the prevention of a course of justice.
Further, the offence under section 319 of the act is a specific intent offence, which means that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that accused had “an intention to cause a specific result”.
CONDUCT FOUND TO BE ‘PREVENTING THE COURSE OF JUSTICE’
The following are some examples where conduct of a party was found to be preventing the course of justice by the Courts:
- Where a person gave a false account of a crime, resulting in the police wasting time in their investigation (R v Manley  1 KB 529)
- Where the accused falsely petitioned the Chief Justice that he was innocent of a crime for which he had been convicted so that a judicial enquiry might have been order. (White v R (1906) 4 CLR 152)
- Where a doctor gave a false medical certificate in order that an adjournment would be obtained before a particular judge. (R v Edelsten (1990) 21 NSWLR 542)
WHAT ARE THE DEFENCES AVAILABLE TO THE CHARGE FOR THIS OFFENCE?
- A lack of intent to prevent the course of justice.
These are some of the common defences available for a charge under this crime.
If you have been arrested or the police are looking to interview you regarding an investigation, Pannu Lawyers is able to advise you of your rights at every step of the criminal investigation & trial process. Pannu Lawyers extensively practice in Criminal Law and regularly appear at Courts throughout New South Wales such as Blacktown Local Court, Mt Druitt Local Court, Parramatta Local Court & District Court, Burwood Local Court, Downing Centre Local Court & District Court, and Penrith Local Court. If your matter is at Blacktown Court, we are conveniently located within a walking distance from the Blacktown Local Court. Call our office on 02 9920 1787 to discuss your matter in a confidential manner.
The above information is intended as general information and is not intended to be relied on as legal advice