34-year-old James Cowled, was a law student working as a Judge’s associate to Federal Court Judge Michael Lloyd-Jones whom he worked for during the period 2011 – 2015.
Although retired in 2015, the former Judge was ‘tricked’ into providing Cowled a character reference letter after being lied to by Cowled that it was for a low-range drink driving offence that he had committed after consuming 2 glasses of wine over lunch in Sydney in 2016.
What the Former Judge wasn’t told was that the good character letter was not for a drink driving offence, but in fact for the offence of possessing prohibited drugs after being found by police officers snorting cocaine in a bar in Double Bay.
The Outcome of Cowled’s Drug Possession Charge
In Court, Cowled used the former Judge’s character letter in support of his case to increase his chances of avoiding a criminal conviction after pleading guilty to possessing cocaine in the Local Court.
It was reported that the Local Court Magistrate was in fact just about to impose a criminal conviction against Cowled before suddenly changing that view after reading the former Judge’s good character reference letter.
After reading the Judge’s letter, the Magistrate eventually then allowed Cowled to remain conviction free by imposing a section 10 under the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW).
It’s reported that Cowled told the court, “I must say telling my former Judge was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life”.
The Daily Telegraph published a front-page story on Cowled’s drug possession sentence and former Judge’s character reference letter, headlined “Law and Snorter”. This was published before it was revealed that he had misled the former Judge into providing the reference letter.
Subsequent Investigation into the Good Character Reference Letter
Following the news reports of Cowled’s court outcome for drug possession, the former Judge made a complaint to the Rose Bay police station after a front-page story was published in May 2016 outlining the drug possession offence. The former Judge then realised that he had been misled into providing the reference before lodging a formal complaint.
This then led to further investigation by police in determining whether to charge Cowled for perverting the course of justice for misleading the court. Cowled’s position as Judge’s Associate was then stood down pending investigations by both NSW police and Department of Justice.
Following investigations, Cowled was charged and sentenced for perverting the course of justice.
The Court Outcome
Cowled pleaded guilty to a charge of perverting the court of justice by misleading the court.
He was sentenced by District Court Judge Christopher Robison who said that imprisonment was not appropriate. Perverting the course of justice was a “very serious offence” with a maximum penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. “It strikes at the very heart of the justice system, and…Mr. Cowled himself was part of the justice system because he was a Judge’s associate with the responsibilities that that entails.” Said Judge Robison.
The District Court Judge imposed a criminal conviction, and sentenced Cowled with an 18-month community corrections order which includes three hundred hours of community service.
The Law and Penalties for Perverting the Course of Justice in NSW
A person guilty of perverting the course of justice charge will face a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment under section 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
What does ‘perverting the course of justice mean’? section 312 of the crimes Act 190 (NSW) defines this as “obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or the administration of the law’.
You can be guilty of ‘perverting the course of justice’ if the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that you did something or omitted to do something with the intention of ‘perverting the course of justice’.
You can be guilty of perverting the course of justice even if you attempted to pervert the course of justice but didn’t succeed.
Examples of perverting the course of justice include:
- In the instant case of Mr. Cowled, he influenced the Local Court Magistrate’s decision in imposing a sentence without recording a conviction against his name. This was done in circumstances the former Judge was misled by Cowled into providing a good character reference letter.
- Encouraging an innocent person to plead guilty.
- In R v Egan  NSWCCA the accused was facing sexual charges. He used the alleged victim’s email to send emails to himself in an effort to damage the alleged victim’s credibility to affect the trial.
- In Allen v R  NSWCCA the accused was facing sexual assault charges. He circulated around sexually explicit images and video depicting the alleged victim. He told the alleged victim that he could stop the circulation of these images and video if a statement is made to request that the charges be dropped.
- Adjourning a trial or case on a false basis. This was what occurred in the case of R v Karageorge (1998) 103 A Crim R 157.
- Bribing a Magistrate, Judge or a police officer.
What are the Defences to a Charge of Perverting the Course of Justice?
Your charge for perverting the course of justice will be dismissed if any of the following defences apply:
- You will be not guilty if you were not aware that there was court proceedings current at the time of the allegation, or if you were not aware of what if any court proceedings would take place.
- Mental illness defence: You will be not guilty if you were suffering a mental illness at the time which caused you to not know the quality or nature of your actions or caused you to not know whether your actions were right or wrong at the time.
- You can be not guilty if you were so intoxicated from drugs or alcohol at the time that you weren’t capable of having the requisite intention to pervert the course of justice.
- You will be not guilty if you perverted the course of justice due to acting under ‘duress’ or ‘necessity’.
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