The Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act 2021 (Act) came into operation on 28 July 2021.
The Act consolidates and codifies the law on perjury and related offences. It provides, for the first time in Ireland, a statutory definition of perjury. The Act also provides for other related statutory offences. Prior to its enactment, perjury was a common law offence that carried a penalty of an unspecified statutory limit.
Definition of Perjury
The Act provides that the offence of perjury is committed where a person in, or for the purpose of a judicial or other proceeding, gives a statement material in the proceedings (material statement) as a sworn witness or interpreter, on affidavit, or in a statement of truth, that is false, and he/she knows to be false.
The key points are (i) the material statement is false, and (ii) the perpetrator must know that it is false. “Judicial or other proceeding” is defined broadly as proceedings before a court, tribunal, or a person having legal powers to hear, receive and examine evidence on oath.
What is a material statement is a question of law to be decided by the court trying the prosecution for perjury.
Scope of the Act
The scope of the Act is broad and provides for a number of related offences.
(i) Statements made abroad or for use in proceedings abroad
The Act applies to material statements made under any enactment (Act or Statutory Instrument) in Ireland for the purposes of judicial or other proceedings outside Ireland. It also applies to a material statement made outside Ireland for the purpose of judicial or other proceedings in Ireland.
(ii) Subornation of perjury
The Act places on a statutory footing, the offence of persuading, causing or inducing another to commit perjury. The offence is committed if the person knows or is reckless as to whether the suborned person is committing perjury. It is immaterial whether or not the suborned person has been convicted of the perjury to which the alleged subornation of perjury relates.
(iii) False statements (outside judicial proceedings)
Under the Act, it is an offence for a sworn person to give a material statement on oath that is false, and he/she knows to be false. Given the broad definition of perjury and the proceedings to which it relates, it may be that this offence will arise infrequently.
(iv) False statutory declarations and statements without oath
It is an offence for a person to knowingly give or adduce a statement that is false in a material respect in any of the following:
- Statutory declaration
- Statement of Truth
- Abstract, account, balance sheet, book, certificate, declaration, entry, estimate, inventory, notice, report, return or other document that the person is authorised or required to make, attest or verify under an enactment
- Oral declaration or oral answer given under an enactment.
The offences under the Act will have far-reaching effects on businesses and legal practitioners.
(v) Fabrication of evidence
The Act creates a new offence of fabrication of evidence. The offence is committed where the person intentionally seeks to mislead judicial or other proceedings by fabricating evidence (that falls outside the definition of perjury or subornation of perjury) or knowingly uses fabricated evidence.
(vi) Criminal Liability for Directors and Officers
Under the Act, liability can be imposed on directors, managers, secretaries, or officers of a body corporate where an offence under the Act is committed by the body corporate and is proven to have been committed with their consent, connivance, or willful neglect.
Offences under the Act carry a maximum penalty, on summary conviction, of a Class B fine of up to €4,000 or a term of imprisonment of 12 months. The maximum penalty on indictment is a term of imprisonment up to ten years and/or a fine of €100,000.
The penalties are in line with the offence of giving false evidence in personal injuries actions under the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.
The Act is a significant legislative development in codifying and clarifying the law on perjury and related offences. The Act was introduced as part of the wider reforms to the insurance sector and the perceived compensation culture in Ireland. However, it will have a wider impact. Businesses need to be aware of the range of offences under the Act, and the possibility of the imposition of criminal liability on directors, managers, secretaries and other officers. Offences under the Act may be committed by business in making tax returns, false accounts, accounting records or annual returns.
In theory, its introduction should lead to increased prosecutions for perjury. However, whether convictions follow remains to be seen with the requirement for actual knowledge on the part of the person allegedly committing the offence, and a requirement for corroborated evidence to prove the offence.
Contributed by Gail Nohilly and Aileen Fitzmaurice