LEGAL EAGLE: PERVERTING THE COURSE OF JUSTICE
Over the years, several Jamaicans have been convicted on the charge of perverting or attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, the most recent case involving Reverend Al Miller, who was convicted for attempting to pervert the course of justice, has once again shun the spotlight on the question, what it is to pervert the course of justice?
If anyone plans and takes steps to conceal the existence of a diary with information relevant to a criminal trial; talk to a prosecution witness with a view to convince the witness not to give evidence or to have him change his evidence; conduct any mediation meeting, without the order of a judge, to resolve a criminal matter; make contact with a juror with a view to influence the outcome of a jury trial; conceals potential evidence from the police; speaks to a police officer with a view to have him discontinue a criminal case; provide hiding place for a criminal who escapes custody or who is wanted by the police; transports a person who is wanted by the police so that the said wanted man can evade the police; tries to do anything whatsoever to pervert the course of justice, that person could be charged for perverting the course of justice or attempting to pervert the course of justice. The above are only a few of the unending list of things that can get one in trouble with the law.
COMMON LAW CRIME
Simply put, perverting the course of justice or an attempt to pervert the course of justice is a common law crime, which seeks to deter any plan, attempt or action to impede or influence the outcome of a case otherwise than what would naturally happen in the course of justice.
Like in most criminal trials, the burden is on the prosecution to present evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt or to the extent that the tribunal of fact trying the case feels sure that the accused committed the act knowingly and with intent.
The trial is usually done before a judge of the Parish Court and if the accused is convicted, that judge could exercise a number of sentencing options, to include a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both fine and imprisonment.
NATURE OF THE OFFENCE
Obviously, the degree of the penalty will depend on the nature of the offence and the peculiar circumstances of the offender. In the last two high-profile cases in Jamaica, the judges have imposed fines and this might have been influenced by the fact that these two persons were first-time offenders with excellent antecedent reports.
What must be made clear is that the police and other stakeholders in the justice system will jealously protect the stream of justice to keep it pure and free from any impurities that are likely to contaminate it. Perversion of the course of justice will not be tolerated.
The other important lesson that the 'village lawyers' should also learn is that if any step is taken or anything is done to even attempt to pervert the course of justice and they are arrested, tried and convicted, the penalty could be both a fine and confinement. So, those who have ears to hear, let them hear!