On 18 June, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (pictured) announced that the Government had approved amendments that would broaden the scope of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, writes Mark McDermott.
The bill seeks to make perjury a statutory offence. Currently a common law offence, perjury is rarely prosecuted.
The minister said that the new provisions would help cut down on the number of cases of insurance fraud. A clearly defined statute that made perjury an offence would act as a deterrent to “those who wish to chance their arm”.
“This is a part of a package of measures dealing with insurance issues, insurance fraud and exaggerated claims,” Flanagan said. “Of course, it will have general application as well. It’s a clear message to anyone giving evidence in court that they need to be mindful of the need to tell the truth, and in the event of a fraudulent claim, an exaggerated claim or evidence, then there are strong penalties involved here.”
Broadening the scope
The bill’s primary sponsor is Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh. It has been agreed to broaden the scope of the bill to include commissions of investigation and tribunals of inquiry. It is also proposed to amend the bill so that the maximum penalty on indictment should be harmonised with the equivalent maximum penalties for similar offences in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. This act stipulates that a person who commits an offence is liable:
• On summary conviction to a class B fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both,
• On conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to both.
Commenting on the new bill, Law Society Director General Ken Murphy said that there was already both a common law crime of perjury and – specifically to facilitate the prosecution of perjury in personal injuries cases – key provisions of the Civil Liability and Courts Act of 2004.
“Where perjury occurs, in personal injuries cases or anywhere else in the legal system, it should be prosecuted vigorously,” Murphy said. “Those convicted should go to jail. Perjury insidiously undermines justice and the rule of law. There should be zero tolerance of it in our justice system.”
Murphy commented that there had been extremely few, if any, prosecutions under the 2004 act: “This is surprising, given the requirement for plaintiffs to swear verifying affidavits and the allegations subsequently made by defendants, in a small minority of cases, that the facts in the affidavits were false and known to have been false by the individual who swore they were true.
Lack of will
“In such cases, a prosecution for perjury should, on the face of it, be very straightforward,” he said. “Has there been a lack of will to bring such prosecutions? If so, why?”
Murphy concluded: “In relation to any perjury committed in personal injuries cases, what is really needed is not new law, but a new will of the gardaí to investigate and prosecute.”