Perjury placed on a statutory footing in Irish law

Perjury is now a criminal offence.

The Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act 2021 came into law last week (28th July 2021).

This act has come about partly as a consequence of the concerns about dubious personal injury claims being commenced and the criticism surrounding the so called “compensation culture”.

Criminal liability can now be imposed on company directors and officers in respect of false accounts, tax returns, annual returns, company records etc.

Up to now perjury had no statutory definition and was a common law offence. Now it is a statutory offence and is defined in section 2 as follows:

2. (1) A person commits an offence (in this Act referred to as perjury) if he or she, in, or for the purpose of, a judicial or other proceeding, gives a statement material in the proceeding—

(a) while lawfully sworn as a witness or as an interpreter,

(b) on affidavit, or

(c) in a statement of truth made in place of an affidavit in accordance with section 21 of the Act of 2020,

that is false, and he or she knows to be false.

(2) Where, pursuant to an enactment, a statement is made by a person in a manner specified in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (1)—

(a) within the State for the purposes of a proceeding outside the State and such proceeding corresponds to a judicial or other proceeding in the State, or

(b) outside the State for the purposes of a judicial or other proceeding within the State,

the statement shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as a statement made in such a manner in, or for the purpose of, a judicial or other proceeding in the State.

(3) Where proceedings are brought against a person for the alleged commission of perjury, the question as to whether a statement given by the person was material in a judicial or other proceeding is a question of law to be determined by the court of trial in the proceedings for perjury.

(4) This section is without prejudice to the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 .

You will note from this definition that the person must make a statement that is material in the proceeding.

And the person knows the statement is false.

What is material will be decided by the court when a prosecution for perjury is being conducted in a court of law.

Perjury penalties

Penalties are set out in section 12:

12. A person who commits an offence under this Act is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to a class B fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, or

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both.

Scope of the act

The Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act 2021 covers:

  • Statements made abroad or for use in proceedings abroad
  • False statements made on oath
  • False statutory declarations
  • Fabrication of evidence
  • Incitement to commit the offence
  • Subornation (persuading another) of perjury
  • False accounting records, false tax returns, annual returns

Flood of perjury prosecutions?

It remains to be seen if there will be a flood of criminal prosecutions for perjury.

The difficulty with successful prosecutions is the need to prove the person making the statement had actual knowledge that what they were saying was false.

This will prove difficult and will turn on the facts of each case.