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Perjury and Related Offences Bill passes Seanad Committee Stage

On 24 October 2018, the Perjury and Related Offences Bill came before the Seanad Third Stage, also known as the ‘Committee Stage’, for the purpose of discussing potential amendments.

Sponsored by Senators Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Michael McDowell, Ian Marshall and Victor Boyhan, the Act if passed would consolidate and simplify the law relating to perjury and other similar offences, updating the penalties in relation to same.

Section 2(1) provides that perjury is committed where: ‘If any person lawfully sworn as a witness or as an interpreter in a judicial or other proceeding gives or dishonestly causes to be given, or adduces or dishonestly causes to be adduced, a statement material in those proceedings that (a) is false or misleading in any material aspect, and (b) he or she knows to be false or misleading.’

The punishment laid out under this section on summary conviction is a class B fine or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both. For conviction on indictment, the imprisonment may stretch to a term of up to 7 years in length.

Section 4(1) creates a similar offence of making a false statement. An offence is committed where: ‘Any person required or authorised by law to make any statement on oath for any purpose, and being lawfully sworn (otherwise than in judicial or other proceedings) who gives or dishonestly causes to be given, or adduces or dishonestly causes to be adduced, a statement material in those proceedings that – (a) is false or misleading in any material respect, and (b) he or she knows to be false or misleading.’

The Act also would make provision for false statutory declarations and other false statements where the person making the statement has not taken an oath, and also for false declarations made for the purpose of gaining entry to a vocation or profession.

The previous enactments in this area, being the Perjury Act 1586 and the Perjury Act 1729, would be revealed if this Bill were to pass. Consolidation and modernisation of this area is certainly warranted. The antiquated nature of the law on perjury in Ireland is evidenced by the opening section of the former enactment, which begins as follows:

‘Forasmuch as this realm of Ireland is greatly troubled and hindered by reason of willfull perjurie daily committed notwithstanding that may good lawes have been made and ordeyned for redress thereof, and for that great dangers and perilles are daily likely to fall, if some further remedies shall not be speedily provided for prevention thereof…’

On Wednesday the 17 April, Senator Ó Céidigh announced that he ‘intends to take the Bill to Report and Final Stage with the support and engagement of the Minister for Justice as soon as possible’, also noting that he ‘looks forward to continued cross party support for this robust Bill’.

Commending the work that has been done thus far, the Minister for Justice Mr Charlie Flanagan noted:

‘The general principle of the Bill, to consolidate and codify the law on perjury, is commendable. I am aware that historically it has proven difficult to have a successful prosecution for perjury and subornation of perjury at common law. I accept what Senator Ó Céidigh has said that the essence of the Bill is the real need to provide for a more effective and streamlined process through which this offence can be prosecuted. This will allow us to move towards realising this objective by placing the offence and other related offences on a statutory footing. This is what the Bill purports to do, and I agree with it.’

The transcripts of the full debate can be found here. The history of the bill can be found here. For further reading on the history and development of the concept of perjury, please see here.

 

Note: This is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Any errors should be notified to the editor and will be dealt with accordingly. Any references to the law in this blog post are to the draft of the Bill as it was presented before the Seanad in October 2018 and does not account for later amendments.

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