Two new guidelines for sentencing people convicted of interfering with the administration of justice in England and Wales were published this week by the Sentencing Council following consultation.

For the first time, judges and magistrates will have guidelines to assist in sentencing perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation offences. The new guidelines will enable the courts to take a consistent approach to sentencing these offences.

There are currently no guidelines for the offence of perverting the course of justice and only limited guidance in the magistrates’ courts for witness intimidation.

The new guidelines, which apply to adults only, will come into effect on 1 October 2023.

Perverting the course of justice offences cover a wide range of conduct, from giving false information to police officers at a traffic stop, tampering with evidence or giving false information during a police interview. Such behaviour could lead to offenders avoiding prosecution or innocent people being wrongly investigated or charged, potentially even being convicted and sent to prison.

Witness intimidation offences include pressuring witnesses to withdraw allegations or witness statements or withhold evidence in court, using actual violence or threats of violence. Such offences could lead to people withholding important evidence critical to the outcome of a case.

How common are these offences?

In 2021, around 570 offenders were sentenced for perverting the course of justice and all of these were sentenced at the Crown Court. Around half of these offenders (51 per cent) were sentenced to immediate custody and a further 43 per cent were given a suspended sentence order. Community orders accounted for 4 per cent of offenders sentenced, less than 0.5 per cent were given a fine, 1 per cent were given a discharge and 2 per cent were recorded as otherwise dealt with.

Perverting the course of justice is a Common Law offence and, as such, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. For those receiving immediate custody in 2021, the (mean) average custodial sentence length (ACSL) was 1 year.

In 2021, around 210 offenders were sentenced for intimidating a witness, with around two thirds (66 per cent) sentenced at the Crown Court and the rest (34 per cent) sentenced at the magistrates’ courts. Most offenders (57 per cent) were sentenced to immediate custody. A further 29 per cent received a suspended sentence, 9 per cent received a community order, 1 per cent received a fine and 4 per cent were recorded as otherwise dealt with.

The statutory maximum sentence for witness intimidation is 5 years’ custody and in 2021, the ACSL for this offence was 10 months.

Will the new guidelines impact sentence length?

Overall it is anticipated that the new guidelines will improve consistency of sentencing for these offences and not lead to any notable changes in sentencing severity.

There are, however, risks that the guidelines will be misinterpreted or the data on which the guidelines were based proves inaccurate.

As a firm, we will carefully monitor sentences imposed following the implementation of these guidelines to ensure that clients we represent are not unduly penalised by such errors.


How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819