Media sources have reported that ‘Sydney lawyer’ James Cowled, 31, is under investigation after allegedly procuring a character reference from recently retired Federal Court Judge Michael Lloyd-James under false pretences, and using it during his sentencing proceedings to avoid a criminal conviction.
Mr Cowled had been working as a judge’s associate, and although described by all mainstream media sources as a lawyer in Sydney, he does not appear to be admitted as a lawyer in NSW at all.
Mr Cowled pleaded guilty to drug possession after being caught with a ‘$200 bag of cocaine’ on 26th March this year.
It was reported that, during Cowled’s sentencing hearing, the Presiding Magistrate was on the verge of convicting him, before asking:
“You were found in possession of cocaine. If the person says this was out of character for you they don’t know you very well so why shouldn’t I convict you of this offence?”
Mr Cowled answered, “I’m a judge’s associate”, to which the Magistrate replied “you’re in the system, you know how the system works… You better show me the reference”.
It was reported that the Magistrate’s view changed after seeing that the reference was from Judge Lloyd-James. She then said:
“You’re not the first person in the justice system to appear before the courts charged with drug possession…
In the justice system doesn’t mean you have to have higher standards than everyone else, the law applies equally”.
She ultimately allowed Mr Cowled to remain conviction-free by imposing a 12-month good behaviour bond under a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999.
It has recently been reported that after hearing about the case, Mr Lloyd-James lodged a formal complaint with Rose Bay Police asserting he was under the impression that Cowled was pleading guilty to drink driving, not a drug offence.
“Police can confirm a formal complaint has been made about the matter… As it is an ongoing matter we cannot release any more detail”, a police spokesperson said.
Cowled has been stood down from his position as a judge’s associate pending investigations by police and the Department of Justice to determine whether he should face criminal charges for misleading the court.
Perverting the Course of Justice
Section 319 of the NSW Crimes Act contains the ‘General offence of perverting the course of justice’, stating that:
“A person who does any act, or makes any omission, intending in any way to pervert the course of justice, is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.”
Section 312 defines the conduct as any act or omission which is intended to “obstruct, prevent, pervert or defeat the course of justice or the administration of the law.”
- Encouraging or bribing someone to plead guilty to an offence they did not commit,
- Asking others to provide a false alibi,
- Bribing police officers or judicial officers, and
- Making false statements or claims to police in relation to a criminal proceeding.
In 2007, prominent Federal Court Judge Marcus Einfeld was convicted of perverting the course of justice after attempting to avoid a speeding fine by providing a statutory declaration to the effect that a deceased friend was driving his car at the time of the offence.
Einfeld was sentenced to 3 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 2 years. He was released in 2011.
Following the conviction, the Court of Appeal found that Einfeld’s actions constituted professional misconduct, and he was struck off the Roll of Lawyers on the basis that he was not a “fit and proper person.”
Whether Mr Cowdel’s alleged conduct will lead to a criminal prosecution and similarly end his chosen career path remains to be seen.