Court of Justice of the European Communities (Perjury) Bill, 1975 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

This is a short Bill which arises directly from membership of the European Communities. Section 1 makes it an offence under our law for a person before the European Court to swear anything which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true. Section 2 is a technical jurisdictional provision.

Under the Treaties a member State is obliged to treat any false testimony given on oath before the Court of Justice of the Communities as if it were an offence committed in proceedings before one of its own courts. In effect, what the Bill proposes to do is to take extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of false testimony before the court, which sits in Luxembourg.

It might be asked why legislation is required at all since the Treaties are now part of our law. First, it is necessary to have a technical provision, as in section 2, in relation to the venue for prosecution. This is always done where extra-territorial jurisdiction is being taken. Secondly, I am advised that there is some doubt as to whether or not we could rely solely on the Treaties to support a prosecution here for the common law offence of perjury in a case of false testimony before the European Court. Finally, this matter could not be dealt with by regulations under the European Communities Acts, 1972 and 1973, because perjury is an indictable offence and the 1972 Act specifically prohibits the creation of indictable offences by regulation.

There are, of course, differences between the procedure before the European Court and the procedure to which we are accustomed. The procedure before the court is mainly a written one and it is more the exception than the rule for witnesses or experts to be heard. Furthermore, when they are heard, they take the oath after they have presented their evidence. The court has power to exempt a witness or expert from taking the oath.

Where perjury appears to have been committed before the court, the initiative in reporting the matter to the competent authority of the member State concerned would be taken by the court itself. The competent authority here would be the Director of Public Prosecutions. So far the court has never reported a case of perjury to a member State.

I commend this Bill to the House and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

We have no objection to this Bill and are prepared to let the Minister have the Second Stage.

I welcome the Bill. I was under the impression that if a citizen of the Republic of Ireland went before the European Court and committed perjury he could be prosecuted in this country even if this Bill were never introduced. I was wrong about this. I thought the situation came about by virtue of our accession to the Treaty and by virtue of European Community sanction. I was just wondering if I was correct in that assumption and as to the reason for bringing in the legislation.

Perjury is a very uncommon offence in Ireland. I have never come across a case of perjury. I do know that many people, every day, stand up in court and give testimony which could be described as inaccurate. They are trying to recall, especially in running down cases, an accident which happened a couple of years ago. I regard this Bill as a simple measure to harmonise the legal systemvis-à-vis Europe. I hope the Act will not have to be resorted to.

Just to reply to the point made by Deputy Toal, at first sight it would appear that it might not be necessary to enable offences of perjury committed in Luxembourg to be tried here but there is some doubt about that and it is to remove the doubt that this Bill has been introduced. There is also the technical reason which is dealt with in section 2, namely, that a venue has to be specifically provided for this purpose. Again, the matter cannot be dealt with by making a regulation under the European Communities Act because perjury is an indictable offence and the 1972 European Communities Act specifically prohibits the creation of an indictable offence by regulation and if it is going to be made an offence it will have to be made by regulation under that Act. So there is some doubt as to whether the Acts apply automatically and create the offence here. Further doubt is created by the fact that the offence in our law is still a common law offence. We have never made it a statutory offence. We rely on the common law to deal with the offence. This raised the question to whether our accession to the Treaties would automatically make a common law offence an offence under the Treaties. These are all areas of doubt, possibly not serious, but certainly of sufficient number and weight to justify simple legislation like this to remove that doubt. In the unlikely event of an offence being committed and in the absence of legislation like this this sort of thing could end up in a legal battle. The simplest way out was to introduce this Bill.

Question put and agreed.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment and passed.