My question: Does Perverting the Course of Justice 'apply' to those who try and garner 'evidence' using somewhat deceptive means, even if the evidence they intend to gain is accurate and lawful?

Hypothetical Example:

John has a need to prove his employment history. Perhaps he is being questioned on it by his current employer and that employer is threatening to go through with civil action. This context is irrelevant really.

John then decides to ask his employer to write a reference in case any future employers come asking for one. He isn't looking for a job. The ex-employer agrees and states something along the lines of 'certainly, you always were a great employee' - the proof John wanted to prove that he worked at this place all along.

The example is a little backwards, not making much sense in the real world, but I hope you understand the point I'm trying to get at. Is it illegal to lie or deceive in order to gain evidence?

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    – Dale M
    Apr 12, 2023 at 0:45

3 Answers 3


There must be a course of justice on hand that can be perverted

It has been held that until: police start an investigation, prosecutors lay charges, or a plaintiff serves a claim on a defendant, there is no “course of justice” so no ability for it to be perverted. The threat of a lawsuit is not a lawsuit. So, for your example, whatever John does is not perverting the course of justice until he is advised that his employer has started civil action.

Let’s assume that the dates John worked at his previous place are material and relevant to the case. All John has to do is ask his ex-employer to confirm those dates and, if the ex won’t cooperate, subpoena them - that is, have the court issue an order requiring the ex to produce the evidence.

Similarly, if John needs to prove that his previous employer thought “you were always a great employee”; perhaps he had claimed us much in an interview to get his current job, he would just need to have the ex testify to that.

It’s only if John suborns false evidence in the course of a legal proceeding that we are getting anywhere near perverting the course of justice.


Would the reference be genuine and truthful? Using any false document in legal proceedings or to get or keep employment can lead to legal consequences.

Using false documents or lying to get a job (exam results, qualifications, fake employment history, etc) is fraud, and can lead to criminal charges.

If the reference is false or misleading in some way, for example the person never worked for the previous 'employer', or if they did but false dates are given, or the reference is untrue about the worker's conduct (perhaps if it says they were a good employee and they were fired for poor conduct or performance) then the previous employer and employee could face charges of perverting the course of justice if the documents are later submitted or used in a civil or criminal court case, or in a case before an Employment Tribunal.

An employer in Scotland fired a female employee after she made accusations of sexual harassment. She had no written contract of employment. When she took him to an Employment Tribunal, he created a false contract of employment, and a false warning letter. When the deception was proved, he was prosecuted for perverting the course of justice, and sentenced to 4 months in prison.

Boss jailed for lying to tribunal (BBC News)

Because of issues around the risk of even minor legal complications, most employers are very wary of supplying very much in the way of references, and will only confirm start and finish dates from their records.

If the 'reference' the person obtained is truthful, there would be no legal penalty for obtaining it. If the person is trying to get the former employer to cook up a false or misleading document, then both could face criminal charges.


It seems you are confusing "breaking the law" and "perverting the course of justice". Lying to get yourself an illegal advantage is usually fraud; fraud is "breaking the law" but not "perverting the course of justice".

"Perverting the course of justice" is doing things in court that are designed to make the court make the wrong decision. Let's say you are in court for robbery, and you did indeed commit it. "Justice" would be declaring you guilty if you committed the robbery, and "not guilty" if you didn't. Now if you pay someone to give you a false alibi, with the intent that instead of justice = guilty the court declares you "not guilty" which is not justice, that is perverting the course of justice.

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