I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am pleased to be here today to present the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 to this House. The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate and simplify the law relating to perjury and related offences and for that purpose to update certain penalties. The Members of this House will be aware that this Bill was initiated in the Seanad just over 12 months ago and passed all Stages in the Seanad in June of this year. It was introduced to the Seanad by its lead sponsor, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and co-sponsored by Senators McDowell, Marshall and Boyhan. It is important for me to begin by taking the opportunity to place on record in this House, my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Senator Ó Céidigh for the immense level of work he and his team have undertaken in developing, drafting and consulting on this Bill. It is to his credit that this Bill commanded such cross-party support in the Seanad and I was very satisfied that the Government strongly supported this Bill in its passage through that House, making some necessary amendments with the Senator's co-operation. Senator Ó Céidigh is aware from my Department's engagement with him that the Government supported the adoption of this Bill on its legislative programme so that I may now facilitate its movement though this House. Senator Ó Céidigh and his team, and his co-sponsors, Senators Boyhan, Marshall and McDowell, deserve much credit for the work that has been undertaken to date in this commendable and important Bill.
As the Members of this House would be aware, the current legal position is that perjury is a common law offence that has rarely been prosecuted in this country. In fact, over the course of the past ten years, according to figures supplied by An Garda Síochána to the Central Statistics Office, there have been just 31 recorded incidents of perjury before our courts, an average therefore of approximately three perjury cases per annum.
The core objective of this Bill is to deliver a clearly defined statute dealing with the offence of perjury and related offences. The Government and I are fully supportive of the Bill in its intention to provide for a codified legal framework to hold persons to account who engage in deceitful and fraudulent activity in their submission of sworn testimony or statements, across various forms of judicial and other proceedings. The deterrent effect of this legislation, in its acting as a bulwark against vexatious and dishonest evidence, is likely to be considerable. Its provisions will be a welcome development, particularly in regard to the cost of insurance. It is a part of a package of measures dealing with insurance issues, including insurance fraud and exaggerated claims, and it will also have general application in other areas of law. It will serve as a clear message to everyone engaged in legal proceedings that they must 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 a judge's discretion to impose in the appropriate circumstances.
History tells us that people have deliberately lied in court or misrepresented the truth in affidavits, which had a material impact on the course of justice and equity. This Bill will serve as a mechanism to address that reality. It creates significant deterrents for people who provide such false evidence and statements and, as a result, materially affect the course of justice. The Bill provides a clear definition of perjury and offers direction with regard to the resulting penalties. It updates the common law offence of perjury in Ireland and consolidates other relevant legislation in this regard. There are references to perjury in legislation as varied as the Companies Act, the Cork Harbour Act, the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Mental Health Act, reflecting the all-encompassing nature of this Bill in the context of legal and other official proceedings in which a person may be liable to prosecution for perjury.
The common law offence of perjury was, along with kindred offences, consolidated and simplified by the Perjury Act 1911. However, this Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom was never extended to Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the Perjury Act (Northern Ireland) 1946 was replaced by the Perjury (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, to statutorily provide for the offence there. However, no consolidation or simplification has ever been legislated for regarding the offence of perjury in this jurisdiction. This Bill changes that and establishes a statutory criminal offence for the act of perjury.
The Bill is comprised of 17 sections and two Schedules. Section 1 is a standard provision defining words and phrases used in the Bill. In terms of the context in which the offence of perjury applies for the purposes of this Bill, "judicial and other proceedings" covers proceedings before any court, tribunal, including a tribunal of inquiry or a commission of investigation, or person having by law power to hear, receive and examine evidence on oath. Section 2 provides for the definition of perjury in that it arises in the context of "judicial or other proceedings" where two conditions are met. The first is that a statement, made orally or in writing, has been lawfully sworn and the person so swearing knows it to be false. The second condition is that the statement is material to the proceedings concerned. Section 3 refers to the meaning of subornation of perjury as persuading or otherwise causing another person to commit perjury. Section 4 provides that references in any law or enactment to perjury or subornation of perjury shall be read as references to perjury or suborning another to commit perjury as so provided for in the relevant sections of this Bill. Section 4(2) refers to lists of references to perjury or subornation of perjury contained in Acts and instruments referred to in Schedule 1.
Section 5 provides for an offence of perjury to apply in relevant cases where a person is required or authorised to make a statement on oath in circumstances other than in judicial or other proceedings. The offence provision provided for also applies in the case of false affidavits. Section 6 provides for an offence of perjury to apply in relevant cases of false statutory declarations and any falsification of documents required to be made, attested or verified by or under any relevant Act as defined in section 1. Section 7 refers to a new offence, namely, fabrication of evidence, whereby a person commits an offence when he or she, with the intention of misleading any judicial or other proceeding, fabricates evidence by any means, or knowingly makes use of such fabricated evidence. Section 8 provides for an offence of perjury to apply in relevant cases of false declarations where there is a legal requirement for a person to be registered before he or she can carry on a vocation, profession or other calling. Section 9 provides that a person commits an offence if he or she incites another to commit an offence under this legislation.
Section 10 refers to the requirement for corroboration in respect of any perjury conviction. The section provides that a person shall not be liable to be convicted of any perjury offence exclusively upon the evidence of one witness as to the falsity of any statement alleged to be false. Section 11 provides for procedural matters relating to certain proofs in respect of a prosecution for the alleged commission on the trial on indictment of perjury or for allegedly procuring or suborning the commission of perjury on any such trial. Section 12 provides that the forms and ceremonies used in administering an oath are immaterial if the person or court administering it has the power to so do for verifying the statement concerned and it has been administered in a form, with ceremonies, which the person taking it accepts without objection or has declared to be binding on him or her.
Section 13 provides for penalties for an offence under this Bill both in respect of summary proceedings and proceedings on indictment. The maximum penalty on summary conviction under this legislation is a class B fine up to a maximum of €4,000 or a term of imprisonment of 12 months or both. The maximum penalty on indictment for which a person may be liable on conviction under this legislation is an imprisonment term of ten years or a fine of €100,000 or both. Section 14 allows that proceedings for offences under this Bill, or for proceedings under any other Act for perjury or subornation of perjury, may only be brought and prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Section 14(2) provides time limits within which proceedings taken in a summary manner for an offence under this section may be commenced.
Section 15 refers to the interaction of this Bill with other statutes. Section 15(1) provides that where a false statement is not only an offence under this legislation but is also, under any other enactment, a corrupt practice, or subjects the offender to a penalty other than imprisonment or a fine, then the liability under this proposed Act is in addition to and not in substitution for his or her liability under that other enactment. Section 15(2) provides that this Bill does not apply to a statement made without oath by a child under Part Ill, concerning evidence of children, of the Children Act 1997. Section 15(3) provides that where the making of a false statement is an offence under any Act and is punishable on summary conviction, then summary proceedings may be taken under this proposed Act or any other Act. However, this only applies to an Act passed before the commencement of this proposed Act if the related offence under the other Act so passed is also punishable on indictment. This is to avoid the possibility of the imposition of a higher penalty than would otherwise apply when the alleged offence was committed.
Section 16 provides for the repeal of both the Perjury Act 1586 and the Perjury Act 1729 and for consequential amendments to the 52 Acts that are set out in Schedule 2. Section 17 is a standard provision, providing for the Short Title of the Bill, citations and its commencement.
Schedule 1 relates to section 4 and lists references to perjury in "relevant Acts" and other enactments. Schedule 2 relates to section 16 and lists amendments to be made to certain Acts, all of which are listed under "relevant Acts".
I am mindful that, historically, it has proven difficult to prosecute the offences of perjury and subornation of perjury in common law. There is a need to provide for a more effective and streamlined process through which perjury can be prosecuted. We can move towards realising this objective by placing the offence and related offences on a statutory footing as this Bill purports to do.
There is no doubt that Deputies are aware the offence of perjury and the making of fraudulent and exaggerated claims have been the subject of much media commentary recently. The Government is working on a number of fronts to do what we can to address the high costs insurers impose on their customers and our support for this legislation is part of that work. There will be a strong welcome for this legislation from many in the business community who have supported moves to make perjury easier to prosecute, particularly in the context of personal injury claims which appear to be having an excessive effect on the cost of insurance. I wish to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, in that regard.
The House will be aware that the passing of the Judicial Council Act by the Oireachtas on 9 July last facilitated the implementation of a recommendation of the Personal Injuries Commission regarding the need for guidelines for award levels in personal injury cases. In that regard, I again acknowledge my appreciation for the work of colleagues on a collaborative basis in order to ensure the smooth passage of that Act. Intensive work has been under way since then to establish the judicial council and we are on track for it to be established by the end of the year. In the meantime, my Department is working closely with the Courts Service and the Chief Justice. I very much welcome the appointment of the personal injuries guidelines committee designate, chaired by a Supreme Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Irvine. The establishment of a committee designate pending the formal establishment of the council will allow the committee to hit the ground running and complete its work in an expeditious manner. I wish to thank the Chief Justice and the new committee for the alacrity with which they responded to the House passing the Judicial Council Act.
Similarly, this year we have seen the commencement of amendments to sections 8 and 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to make it easier for businesses and insurers to challenge cases where fraud or exaggeration is suspected. This Bill will serve to complement that legislation by providing a deterrent to those who may seek to abuse the law through the making of fraudulent claims, statements or declarations.
I welcome the issues paper on capping damages in personal injuries actions which was published today by the Law Reform Commission, LRC. It arises from a recommendation of the Government cost of insurance working group and the Personal Injuries Commission that the LRC examine whether it would be constitutionally permissible or otherwise desirable to provide for a statutory regime that would place a cap or tariff on some or all categories of damages in personal injuries cases. The LRC has invited all interested parties to give their views on which of the various models it has identified could meet the constitutional criteria identified in the paper. The closing date is Friday, 31 January and I urge widespread engagement in this process by stakeholders, appropriate organisations, the public and Members. I wish to acknowledge the work of certain committees on this important issue and again commend my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy.
The Bill is an historic one in codifying the offence of perjury in the State. Historically, as a common law offence, perjury has been difficult to prosecute. I am hopeful that by providing for a statutory offence of perjury we will have a clear legal framework to guide our enforcement authorities in decisively taking action in this area. I wish to again acknowledge the contribution of Senator Ó Céidigh. I am pleased to commend the Bill to this House. I very much hope that we can quickly progress it to enactment.