A Guide on the Law on Perverting the Course of Justice in NSW

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

It is reported that on 24 September 2019, Carley Anne Watkins was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for perverting the course of justice as well as the aggravated assault of a taxi driver at her Hobart home in the beachside suburb of Blackmans Bay in 2018.

Pending her trial, during the period of court proceedings, Watkins was on bail with a residential condition that required her to reside at her residence for the duration of her case unless the court orders otherwise.

Once on bail with such bail conditions, it is an offence to breach any such condition.

If you wish to change a bail condition, the court’s approval is required by way of making a bail variation application.

Sometimes the court may suspend a person’s bail conditions for a certain period of time if appropriate.

The Supreme Court in Hobart heard that while the southern Tasmanian woman was awaiting trial for the aggravated assault, she created fake university documents so she could travel while on bail.

As part of her request in variation to her bail, she forged documents outlining she had been accepted to take part in a seminar at the University of Tasmania, specifically at the Cradle Mountain campus.

The 34-year-old simply created this university campus given that no such Cradle Mountain campus exists.

 

Judge Delivers Harsh Words as Ms Watkins Sentenced for Perverting the Course of Justice

Inside the court, Ms Watkins eventually pleaded guilty to two counts each of perverting the course of justice, forgery, uttering as well as false swearing, to which Justice Geason was quick to deliver some harsh words during her sentencing.

“Your offending was, in my view, a most serious example of perverting the course of justice and by your actions you gained an advantage,” Justice Geason said.

Ms Watkins three-month suspended sentence was reactivated.

 

Ms Watkins Found Guilty of Aggravated Assault and Computer-Related Fraud on Taxi Driver in July 2018 Incident

Meanwhile, in August, Ms Watkins, along with Leigh Reginald Dobson and Samuel James Franklin, were found guilty by a Supreme Court jury of aggravated assault and computer-related fraud on a taxi driver.

The incident took place in July 2018.

The court heard the cab driver was terrified after the trio allegedly attacked him and forced him to transfer thousands of dollars into their bank accounts.

Addressing the incident at Ms Watkins’ hearing, Justice Geason made clear that she was present at the time Dobson and Franklin punched the cab driver in the face and threatened him with a knife.

It was revealed Watkins participated in aggressively questioning the man.

A 15-month prison sentence was imposed for the assault, backdated from April.

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What is Perverting the Course of Justice?

According to section 312 of the Crimes Act 1900, perverting the course of justice refers to any act or omission that “obstructs, prevents, perverts, or defeats the course of justice or the administration of the law”.

Examples of actions that might constitute perverting the course of justice include:

  • Encouraging someone to plead guilty to an offence which they did not commit.
  • Asking a doctor to give an untruthful medical certificate so that an adjournment can be obtained.
  • Bribing police officers.
  • Asking someone to provide a false alibi.
  • Lying to a police officer or court under oath.

 

The Law and Penalties for Perverting the Course of Justice in NSW

In NSW, the offence of perverting the course of justice is reflected in section 319 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Section 319 prohibits you from doing something or omitting to do something with the intention to pervert the course of justice. It carries a maximum penalty of 14-years imprisonment and is taken very seriously given that the legal system aims to be just and fair – so any attempt to interfere with the criminal justice system or lie to authorities obstructs this and is considered an attack on the justice system.

The fact that the maximum punishment for committing the crime of perverting the course of justice in NSW is 14-years gaol reflects the importance of protecting the integrity of our justice system.

These offences are considered by our Courts as offences of the most serious nature.

As the case of Marinellis v R [2006] NSWCCA 307 says, they strike at the very heart of the justice system and must be severely punished wherever detected.

An example of an offence of perverting the course of  justice is lying in court under oath or bribing or attempting to bribe a police officer as they interfere with the criminal justice system.

Another example of perverting the course of justice is an offender encouraging a person to plead guilty to a charge, which was not committed by the person.

The case of R v Meissner (unrep, 27/11/92, NSWCCA) said that “to directly interfere with a person’s right to plead not guilty to a criminal charge is to cut the ‘golden thread’. It is to interfere with the most fundamental right that any person has under the law, the right to defence a criminal charge relying upon the presumption of innocence”.

Perverting the course of justice offences can also include situations where an offender does acts before any legal proceedings commence, which intentionally frustrate or deflect the course of judicial proceedings that is contemplated by the offender.

There are certain features that a sentencing court can take into account that mitigate or reduce the severity of the offence of perverting the course of justice.

There are other features that aggravate or increase the severity of the offence.

Where an offender commits this offence to protect a family member is an example of a feature that reduces the severity of the offence. Whereas, committing this offence for a personal gain is considered more serious, attracting a heavier sentence in court.

Another factor that reduces the seriousness of the offence is if the level or extent of interference by the offender is limited or small.

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