Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 passes Report and Final Stage in Seanad Éireann
You lie in court and you will face the consequences
Following today’s passage of the Perjury & Related Offences Bill in the Seanad, I hope that no longer will innocent people suffer at the hands of dishonesty.
Placing perjury on the statute books is not just about penalising those who commit perjury. It is primarily about preventing those from doing it in the first place. Tough sanctions may make someone think twice about lying and diverting the course of justice.
Over the years I have personally known scores of small business owners who suffered significantly, because someone knowingly lied in court. The financial consequences of a fraudulent claim can be devastating and in some cases, their businesses went under as direct results of people committing perjury.
My initiative to place Perjury as a statutory criminal offence is not just about addressing fraudulent personal injury claims, although that is a very important component. It is about bringing accountability to all those who lie in our courts, our commissions and our tribunals.
I hope that our colleagues in the Dáil will pass this much needed legislation as soon as possible so that the President can swiftly sign it into law.
This is a very big day for me. During my time in the Seanad, I have sometimes asked whether I am really making a contribution, although I do give it my best shot. I suppose that is human nature. The Bill is the culmination of a personal journey. It shows how sometimes, even without power, resources or the backing of a Department or the Attorney General, good laws can be formulated by individuals. It shows the importance of the Upper House and validates the work that Senators McDowell, Norris and others have done to protect its relevance.
We are fortunate to have the support of some excellent drafters. I availed of this support and I especially thank Kieran Mooney for his contribution to the creation of this robust Bill. The journey focused on a number of significant stakeholder consultations. I reached out to the Minister and I greatly appreciate his very active support for the Bill. I thank An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Law Reform Commission, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Rape Crisis Centre, the Irish SME Association, ISME, Victim Support and others. ISME in particular put the prospect of placing perjury on a statutory footing firmly on the public agenda. I pay tribute to the campaign it ran on behalf of its members, many of whom are penalised through high insurance premiums precisely because of perjury being committed within and outside the jurisdiction of our courts. Up to now, there have been virtually no prosecutions in respect of this crime. In the past ten years, there have only been 31 recorded incidents of perjury in our courts. Placing perjury on the Statute Book is not just about penalising those who commit perjury. It is primarily about preventing them from doing it in the first instance. That is a big motivator for changing the sentence from seven to ten years. Tough sanctions may make someone think twice about lying and diverting the course of justice.
I hope the Bill will have a practical impact on business, especially small businesses. Over the years, I have personally known scores of small business owners who have suffered significantly because someone knowingly lied in court. In some cases, their businesses went under as a direct result of people committing perjury. My initiative to place perjury on a statutory footing as a criminal offence is not just about addressing fraudulent personal injury claims, although it is a very important component. It is about bringing accountability to all those who lie in our courts, commissions and tribunals.
I wish to pay special tribute to the two officials seated behind the Minister, who have worked very actively with me, my team and my personal assistant, Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, in bringing this Bill to fruition. Anyone who has the misfortune of facing into court proceedings or giving jury service knows that every day of the week there are people taking oath or swearing an affidavit stating facts that they know to be false. As a nation, we have endured multiple tribunals and commissions of inquiry that have taken place while knowing that people have lied.
In some cases, we discovered years later that blatant lies materially affected the course of justice without any consequences for the liar. There are people guilty of heinous crimes such as assault, sexual assault, robbery and extortion walking our streets because somebody went into court and lied on their behalf. Unfortunately, the innocent parties in such circumstances suffered greatly. I hope that such suffering will be significantly reduced as a result of the Bill.
I wish to thank my Independent colleagues, our researcher, Mr. James Geoghegan, and the departmental officials. We are privileged to have such good and committed civil servants in the Department. It gives me great confidence in the Department of Justice and Equality and in the Minister, as its head, in regard to the Bill. I thank the members of all political parties and none who have supported the Bill. I deeply appreciate it. I hope that our colleagues in the Dáil will pass this much-needed legislation in order that the President can sign it into law. I appreciate the cross-party support for the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018.