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.