The minister said the deterrent effect of the legislation will be a considerable and welcome development, particularly in relation to the cost of insurance.
Insurance reform key priority
Insurance reform is a key priority for this Government, she said, because the costs are a hugely significant issue for businesses, motorists, households and sporting, community and voluntary groups.
A cabinet sub-committee will also be established to deal urgently with insurance reform and there is a promise of increased coordination and cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry.
The Garda Economic Crime Bureau which deals with fraud will be expanded, and fraudulent claims forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The minister said the Bill, when enacted, will be a very important measure in countering insurance fraud and the compensation culture and high cost of insurance.
“It will serve as a clear message to anyone engaged in legal proceedings that they need to be mindful of the need to tell the truth and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties that will be at the judge’s discretion to impose,” the minister said.
Committee Stage of the Bill should be scheduled and passed before 31October with legislation enacted before year-end.
The penalties in the Bill are in line with the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 regarding false evidence and fraudulent claims.
If enacted, the maximum penalty on summary conviction is a Class B fine or twelve months’ imprisonment of twelve months.
The maximum penalty on indictment will be ten years and/or a fine of €100,000.
The minister thanked the Regional Group of TDs – Cathal Berry, Seán Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Matt Shanahan and Peadar Tóibín – for their work on the Bill.
“The importance the Government attaches to this legislation is reflected in our commitment to enact this legislation in the current Programme for Government and I look forward to working with all Deputies in this House in delivering on that commitment,” Minister McEntee said.
She also paid tribute to the “considerable contribution” of former Senator Padraigh Ó Céidigh for his work on the successful passage of an important Bill through the House.
“As principal sponsor of this Bill when it was introduced to the Seanad as a Private Member’s Bill at the end of 2018, he worked tirelessly and cooperatively with my predecessor Minister Flanagan and other stakeholders in steering the Bill through the Seanad with cross party and Government support,” she said.
Justice officials have consulted widely with other departments on the Bill and are working with the Attorney General on preparing proposed technical Committee Stage amendments.
The Committee Stage was initially scheduled on 22 January but the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil that month.
The Bill has now been restored to the Dáil Order Paper.
However, the minister cautioned that she will need to be mindful of the advice of the Attorney General in ensuring the Bill holds up to legal scrutiny as it progresses through the outstanding legislative stages.
She also expressed support for the early establishment of the Select Committee on Justice, where the Bill could be prioritised.
“It is never acceptable to lie on oath or, for that matter, when undergoing any formal legal proceedings and this Bill is a significant legislative mechanism which will not only provide for considerable penalties against those who commit the offence of perjury or related offences, it will also have a substantial deterrent effect regarding the making of fraudulent claims or statements by those persons who may be minded to do so.
“Historically, we know that the offence of perjury has proven difficult to prosecute under the common law and the number of successful prosecutions tend to be in single figures in any given year. Yet history also tells us that, all too frequently, some people have deliberately made false statements or lied in official legal proceedings which materially affected the course of justice.
“I join with Deputies across this House in championing this Bill as a bulwark against such deceitful and fraudulent conduct and actions,” the minister said.
She continued that the Bill will provide clear direction to the courts on the necessary penalties and will send a clear message to would-be abusers of court time that deliberate falsehoods will not go unpunished and may result in serious consequences.
“I am confident that this Bill will go a long way in deterring those who may be considering providing dishonest evidence during legal proceedings,” the minister concluded.