Chris Huhne and Perverting the Course of Justice

15/02/2012

The recent decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to charge former cabinet minister, Chris Huhne and his estranged wife, Vicky Price, with an offence of perverting the course of justice has thrown this offence into the spotlight.

The case involves an allegation that back in 2003 Mr. Huhne, who was at the time a Member of the European Parliament, arranged for his wife to tell the police that it was she and not him who was driving when his car was caught speeding.  It is alleged that by doing this Mr. Huhne avoided being fined and awarded penalty points on his driving licence which would have resulted in a driving ban under the “totting up” provisions of the Road Traffic Offenders Act.

Offences of perverting the course of justice can be committed in a number of different ways including intentionally concealing the commission of a crime, assisting others to evade arrest and making a false allegation of crime with the intent that it should be taken seriously by the police. Because it is an offence which strikes at the very heart of the justice system it is by no means uncommon for those who are convicted of perverting the course of justice to be sent to prison.  

The allegations against Mr. Huhne and his ex-wife focus on what Mr. Huhne allegedly did with the Notice of Intended Prosecution or “nip” that would have been sent to him by the police after his car was said to be caught speeding.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 allows the police, where they believe an offence such as speeding may have been committed, to require the registered keeper of the vehicle to provide details of the person driving that vehicle at the relevant time.  Such a request is made by way of a Notice of Intended Prosecution and a response must be made within 28 days of the date on the Notice.  Failure to provide this information within the requisite period can lead to a prosecution for Failing to Notify, an offence which carries a fine and six penalty points.  The case against Mr. Huhne is of course that he allegedly provided false information as to who was driving his car and not that he simply did not provide any information at all.

All this goes to show that the law and procedure relating to Notices of Intended Prosecution is somewhat complex and, in certain situations, the response to such a Notice can lead to a person being prosecuted for the serious offence of perverting the course of justice.  In order to avoid any such problems it is almost always sensible for a driver who receives a Notice of Intended Prosecution to take expert legal advice.

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