Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED April 7, 2003

The appellant, by leaving the scene of a serious road traffic accident and not reporting the accident until the following morning when he knew he was not at risk of a positive breathalyser reading, had not committed an act tending and intented to pervert the course of justice.Appeal against conviction and sentence with leave of the single judge. On 10 October in the Taunton Crown Court before Gilbert J QC. The defendant ('C') was convicted of doing an act tending and intended to pervert the course of justice, and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. C had been involved in a fatal road accident involving a cyclist. C maintained that he thought he had struck an animal and that he had been dazzled by oncoming lights. He claimed that he had stopped his car for about five or ten minutes and walked back along the road but found nothing to suggest that he had struck a human being. He therefore left the scene and went to the police station the following morning after allegedly seeing a road block at the crash site. He maintained that he may have hit an animal the previous night. He was arrested and breathalysed but no positive reading was obtained. During the course of interview, he admitted that he had drunk several pints of lager the previous evening. His vehicle had been severely damaged. C was charged with doing an act tending or intended to pervert the course of justice. The Crown's case was that C had been under the influence of alcohol and had driven away from the scene knowing he had hit the cyclist and that he had excess alcohol in his blood. He had not reported the accident until the following morning when he knew he was not at risk of a positive breathalyser reading. By acting in this manner he had deliberately attempted to conceal the commission of the offence. Had he remained at the scene he would have been breathalysed with a view to prosecution for serious road traffic offences and his car would have been forensically examined at that time. At the close of the prosecution case the defence submitted that there was no case for C to answer. The offence was committed when a person did an act or embarked on a course of conduct which tended and was intended to pervert the course of justice. Some positive act was required. Simply not stopping after an accident and driving home to avoid being breathalysed was not enough. The judge rejected the submission holding that the journey home after the accident was a positive act, the purpose of which was to try and conceal or destroy the evidence relevant to the investigation into how the victim had been killed. On appeal C submitted that: (i) there had been no reported case in which the ambit of the offence had been extended this far; (ii) the course of conduct amounted to no more than driving home for the night and not reporting to the police until the following morning. Taken to its logical conclusion it meant that every driver over the limit who drove home instead of to the nearest police station would commit the offence. Likewise every motorist who failed to stop at the scene of an accident. In the latter case s.170 Road Traffic Act 1988 set the limit of a driver's responsibility for stopping and or reporting accidents.HELD: (1) The offence of perverting the course of justice had not so far been extended to cover facts such as those in the present case. (2) It was clear however that the ambit of the offence was not inhibited by express statutory provision. The same acts could tend to pervert the course of justice and also be contrary to specific statutory provisions or amount to contempt of court. So in this case the fact that s.170 Road Traffic Act 1988 contained provisions requiring drivers involved in accidents to stop and report was no answer to the charge of perverting the course of justice. (3) Although C's actions after the accident provided ample evidence of intent to commit the offence, it was important not to allow this to obscure the need to identify and examine the act or course of conduct relied on as perverting the course of justice. (4) It was difficult to characterise C's conduct following the accident as concealing evidence. The evidence had been concealed because the alcohol had dissipated and it's effect diminished naturally over the following hours but this process could not be relied on as some qualifying act or course of conduct. (5) Charging a man who has simply gone home in this way with this serious criminal offence could not be justified. Without more he has not perverted the course of justice. What could be said was that C failed to report the accident to a police station as soon as reasonably practicable. However the Crown were right not to rely on this as an act tending to pervert the course of justice because it was self evidently an omission not an act. (6) The acts or course of conduct relied on by the crown did not sustain the offence. (7) The view that without a charge of perverting the course of justice C would have just got away with it was not a good enough reason for extending the ambit of the offence unjustifiably.Appeal allowed.

[2003] EWCA Crim 991