Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2019

Vol. 991 No. 2

Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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 on 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.

It is good to have an opportunity to address the Bill. I have come from the Seanad, which has just passed the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill. This Bill is another tool in the kit required to deal with insurance fraud. Bills which have been passed with significant co-operation in both Houses are the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill, the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act, the Judicial Council Act and the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill. This Bill will be an addition to that canon. That legislation was fast-tracked with the co-operation of both Houses because all Oireachtas Members understand the extent to which insurance issues are damaging business and costing jobs. All Members accept that the Government is doing everything in its power as quickly as it can. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, touched upon the important areas we have addressed.

It is important for me to put on the record the extent to which we need to send a message through this Bill to people who bring forward fraudulent or exaggerated claims which are doing significant damage. The Judiciary is moving to review the guidelines through the committee designate selected by the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Frank Clarke. The message on insurance I wish to send from this Chamber is that with this additional tool in our kit there will be an end to the era of easy money and people taking spurious claims to the courts or presenting affidavits which result in a claim pending for two, three or four years and insurance companies being forced to reserve funds with a resultant impact on businesses through an increased premium. That era is coming to an end with the full support of both Houses of the Oireachtas. For that, I thank every Member of the Houses. Without their support, this could not be done. The message has not got through to the slow learners. Deputies may be aware of recent newspaper reports regarding certain members of the legal or medical worlds. Such practices cannot be allowed to continue. I accept that only a very small percentage of those professions facilitate spurious claims. The power of this legislation will be brought to bear on those who perjure themselves in our courts or swear untrue affidavits. It is important that the slow learners get the message that the era of easy money from insurance is over.

The use of the phrase "slow learners" by the Minister of State was unfortunate. I am sure he meant nothing by it, but it might have been possible to use more appropriate terminology.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh, atá i láthair sa Teach.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis freisin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an Bille an-tábhachtach seo sna rialacháin tar éis cúpla lá. I wish to congratulate Senator Ó Céidigh on this very important Bill and to acknowledge the instrumental role of Senators McDowell, Boyhan and Marshall, who sponsored it. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has spent a significant amount of time recently listening to Senators on criminal and general justice matters. I think he would agree that there is a lot of sense in Seanad Éireann and that if we had listened to Senators in respect of legislation such as the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, we would probably be far more inspired than we are, having listened to other members of the Cabinet.

Yesterday, I went online to research the law of perjury in order to prepare for this debate. The manner in which perjury developed as a common law offence is of interest. As the Minister stated, it is now sought to put it on a statutory basis, which is a very important development. I came across an interesting, informative and amusing article while investigating the history of perjury. It was written by a senior counsel named Paul Anthony McDermott. My reading of the article was particularly poignant because yesterday was the day upon which he died. I wish to take a few moments to refer to him because he was a considerable person who merits recognition in the Chamber in light of his significant contribution to the justice and legal systems. He had a very distinguished academic career. Academic success is sometimes not recognised in the way it was many years ago.

Certainly, in the middle of the last century there were regular occasions when academic achievements in universities would be advertised and publicised in newspapers. That is not done often now, probably for reasons to do with modern life.

He excelled academically. He also wrote a number of important legal textbooks. One was on double jeopardy and res judicata. He wrote a book on prison law during his twenties, which was a considerable achievement. He then became a barrister and, as the Minister knows, he was a very distinguished barrister. He worked for many years as a junior counsel and only became a senior counsel in 2015. He was an extremely hard worker. Like many successful barristers, he did not take himself too seriously and had a great sense of self-deprecation. He was able to comment in the public sphere about issues of importance. He made complicated legal issues such as perjury digestible for the public. He was happy to contribute in the public sphere and share his learning and he did so in an understated, elegant and sophisticated way. On my behalf, and I am sure I speak on behalf of other Members, I offer my condolences to his wife, Annick, his sons, Harry and Andrew, his mother and his brother, James.

The article I read by Paul Anthony McDermott was published last June and dealt with perjury. That was when the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, announced that the Government was going to adopt Senator Ó Céidigh's Bill. In the article, which was published in The Sunday Times, Paul Anthony McDermott referred to the fact that the Perjury Act 1911 was never applied in Ireland. I do not know why it was not applied. It was not that the British Government at the time believed there was no issue with perjury in Ireland or that Irish people did not tell lies. Similarly, it was not applied in Scotland. We know from the Minister's speech and Paul Anthony McDermott's article that there was an earlier Act, the Perjury Act 1729. I will quote a short paragraph from the article written by Paul Anthony McDermott as it gives a good insight into both the archaic nature of the law of perjury and his distinctive style:

An earlier Irish Perjury Act of 1729 does still apply here, but it simply allows someone convicted of the common-law offence to be sent to a house of correction for hard labour or transported to one of "His Majesty's plantations beyond the seas". Sadly, hard labour has fallen out of fashion in almost every area of modern life, and US president Donald Trump’s immigration policy, combined with Ireland’s current lack of colonies, makes transporting felons logistically challenging these days.

That is a humorous and instructive account of the Perjury Act 1729 and how it applied historically.

When considering the common law offence of perjury, it is important to note that we do not criminalise lying. It is not a criminal offence to lie. Recently, and this was mentioned by Paul Anthony McDermott in his article, somebody sought to initiate a private prosecution against the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom because of alleged lies he had told during the referendum campaign on Brexit. That was thrown out of court on the basis that there was no criminal offence to provide that somebody who does not tell truthful facts during a political campaign is committing a crime. There is no criminal act of telling lies.

The reason there has been a common law offence of perjury for hundreds of years is that it has been recognised that to tell a lie under oath in court is something the law should prohibit and criminalise. People sometimes forget that courts are formal, not casual, places. They are places where people should only go as a last resort. If one goes to court the evidence one gives can have dire consequences for other people. Historically, evidence could result in the death of another person. Today, evidence given in court can result in a person losing his or her liberty or, in the civil sphere, in a person having a significant award of damages made against him or her. There are significant consequences to evidence given under oath in court. That is why the law has always recognised that it is wrong of a person to tell lies under oath. For that reason it has been a common law offence.

It is surprising that we have not put this on the Statute Book to date. The word should not go from this House that perjury in Ireland was not prohibited or criminalised up to now. It is an offence, but the problem is that when an offence is a common law offence it depends upon the development of that offence through the written judgments of judges and the development of the common law before the courts. It is much more appropriate in a modern society that all criminal offences are codified in legislative Acts so the public is well aware of the type of behaviour that is criminalised and will result in punishment.

People regularly swear affidavits before the courts. They swear them in a casual way, without giving due attention to the content of the affidavits. Part of the problem is that lawyers draft affidavits for people. It is the obligation of the person swearing the affidavit to read it carefully and ensure that the draft prepared by the lawyer accurately reflects what the person is stating and the evidence the person wishes to put before the court. Unfortunately, people assume they will be happy with it because it is drafted by the lawyer. They speed read it and do not give it due attention. The single message that should be conveyed when this legislation is enacted is that if one is going to give evidence in court it is a very serious matter. One gives evidence in two ways - first, by way of affidavit and, second, by way of oral evidence given to the court by turning up in person. People need to be much more careful when swearing affidavits. Similarly, when somebody goes into a witness box to give evidence, he or she must recognise that he or she can only give evidence that is truthful. That emphasis is so strong that we require people to swear an oath or to make an affirmation before they give their evidence. When somebody is giving evidence we must ensure that the person understands that if he or she does not give truthful and accurate evidence there will be consequences for him or her.

This issue has developed in recent times as a result of the recognition by politicians that some people are going to court too easily and casually and some are going to court for the purpose of trying to obtain money wrongfully by giving false evidence to the court. However, other legislation has been in place for many years which makes it an offence to give false evidence on affidavit. Anybody who is taking a personal injuries action must swear an affidavit of verification. The affidavit must testify that the content of the civil bill or the personal injuries summons is true and accurate. It is an offence for it not to be true and accurate or for an affidavit that is untrue to be sworn. There is also such a requirement in other legislation. In the Defamation Acts there is a requirement for persons taking a defamation action to swear an affidavit testifying to the accuracy and truthfulness of the content of the civil bill or statement of claim.

It must be recognised, however, that it is not just people who take cases who may be committing perjury. There is an assumption that it is only the plaintiff taking the case who is likely to commit perjury. In many instances, a defendant will have a motive to commit perjury and give false evidence to a court, even if that defendant is indemnified by an insurance company. We need to recognise the balance in the legislation put forward by the Senators. It does not just apply to people taking claims but also to people defending claims, as it is equally serious for somebody untruthfully to put evidence before a court for the purpose of trying to prevent him or her being held liable in damages for the action brought by the plaintiff.

As the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, said, we have made a number of statutory developments in this House in order to deal with what are referred to as fraudulent claims, exaggerated claims and claims which should never be brought before a court. As I said, the most important message we need to send out is that going to court is not a casual event but an extremely serious event. Most people in their lives will not go to court. It is an unfortunate consequence that sometimes people are forced to go to court because of what happens to them in traumatic events, whether it be a personal injury they suffer through no fault of their own but through the negligence of others, or a family law dispute or an employment dispute. Most of us, hopefully, can spend our lives away from courts. While there are circumstances in which people have to go to court, they should only go there as a last resort. The first message from this House should be that going to court is not casual. It is a serious event and if people go there, it should only be the last resort.

We need to consider what we have done. We have taken many steps, as an Oireachtas, to try to facilitate the detection of fraudulent claims. As the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, said, we enacted speedily the Judicial Council Bill and currently the Chief Justice and the members of the superior courts are putting together the committee that is going to try to come up with a range of damages in respect of personal injuries. We also brought forward other legislation which has gone through the House and Senator Ó Céidigh's Bill is part of that toolbox of legislation. My colleague, Billy Kelleher, MEP, also has legislation to which the Minister should give ample consideration.

We also need to recognise that steps are being taken outside this House to reduce damages. The Court of Appeal since 2015 and 2016 has consistently given decisions which are reducing awards in personal injuries actions and they are coming down. We hear repeatedly that awards in Ireland are much higher than in the UK. They are for minor injuries such as whiplash, but what we do not hear in this debate is that for catastrophic, extremely serious injuries, awards are much higher in the UK. That is a part of the debate that needs to be spoken about in order to bring balance.

All of these steps are being taken for the purpose of trying to achieve one societal benefit, that is, the reduction of premiums that are being charged by insurance companies to persons who want to operate and get public liability insurance. That is a commendable societal objective and we want to achieve it. We have done considerable work in seeking to achieve that, when we look at the awards coming down, the work being done by the Judicial Council Bill, the enactment of other legislation and the establishment of PIAB, and I also include Senator Ó Céidigh's Bill. However, irrespective of any issues to do with insurance claims and the recent coverage they have received, this legislation should be enacted in any event because it covers far more than simply insurance claims, the issue that is attracting public attention currently.

The whole purpose of this action on the part of the political world and the Judiciary is to try to reduce premiums. We need to send the message out to the insurance industry that we are fully aware of what it is looking for, but it needs to be aware of what we are looking for. We are looking for a reduction in premiums so ordinary businesses can operate. We note that profits in the insurance industry in Ireland have rocketed in recent years. We are not introducing all of these reductions in damages for the purpose of ensuring that insurance companies' profits continue to rise. If their profits are rising so high, there must be a responsibility on them to use those profits in order to reduce the cost and price of premiums that ordinary people have to pay. We may need to get to a stage where, as a political system, we start looking at how we can ensure that insurance companies cannot continue to accumulate huge profits while, at the same time, identifying some fraudulent claims and then saying the system is not working and needs to be reformed. It does need to be reformed but not just because there are fraudulent claims which need to be thrown out and which are being thrown out. We are reforming it also for the societal objective of trying to get the insurance companies to reduce their premiums, which is something we need to examine continuously.

I welcome the Bill. It is a good contribution to what we have on the Statute Book currently. It has been pointed out that we have had very few prosecutions for perjury in this country, which is true and we need to see more. If somebody gives false evidence before a court and there is sufficient evidence indicating that was done deliberately, there should be prosecutions. We also need to be aware that the courts are not naively falling for exaggerated or fraudulent claims of people who come before them. Every day of the week, we read in our newspapers about cases and claims that are being thrown out by the courts because they are exaggerated or fraudulent, or because the judges simply do not believe the person taking the case. We do not read as much in our newspapers about cases where judges disbelieve defendants and find in favour of the plaintiff because the evidence of the defendant was not accepted. We do not read much about occasions when insurance companies may allege fraud against a person taking a claim but it is realised the company has no evidence for it and it is just put out there. If the company puts it out there, there is an entitlement for a court to consider whether aggravated damages should be awarded because of the making of a baseless allegation of fraud against a person who is taking a claim.

I commend the legislation. I hope we will be able to get it through promptly and get it onto the Statute Book. I conclude by urging the Minister again to listen to the good sense that comes from Seanad Éireann. I know he has spent a lot of time there recently. If he listened to Senators more than to colleagues in Cabinet who have ideas about how the justice system should be reformed, he would do far better.

I welcome the legislation and I commend Senator Ó Céidigh and the other Senators for bringing it forward. The truth is that perjury is something we have had in our society for a long time. As Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned, if we go right back to the 1700s, we find it on the Statute Book. It is interesting that one of the big things people had in their lives, certainly among the older generations, was that when they swore on the Bible, they took that as meaning they had to tell the truth. That was a very powerful thing in a society that was devout in a religious sense. People were very much of the view that they would not break that oath when they took it and it was seen as being even more than a mortal sin to commit the act of perjury. It is in that context that we found perjury did not reach into the legal sphere as much as it would have under normal circumstances.

We are in a different age now, for better or for worse, and the act of perjury is something we see happening at a more accelerated rate in our society. In many of the commentaries we see in newspapers and throughout the media, we see cases reported on which are thrown out of court where it is clear untruths are being told to the court and those doing that seem to suffer no repercussions. It would be welcome if legislation of this nature were to be a deterrent for people who would chance their arm and go into court on the basis of what have they to lose. That type of attitude is what has got us into huge difficulty in the past and this legislation will, hopefully, bring us to a situation where less of it happens in the future.

The Bill, as the Minister outlined, goes into some detail as to how this can operate. However, we need to ensure there are safeguards in place. We all know of situations where a person has a genuine injury yet what the consequences of that may be is somewhat open to interpretation. We would not want a situation where legislation of this nature were to be too onerous in that context.

Where we are in agreement is on cases in which people make fraudulent claims and set themselves up to make a killing without any due process or proper basis for that claim to be brought forward.

The Senators have done a great deal of work and a great service to the State by bringing this Bill forward. In fairness to the Government, it is welcome that it has accepted the Bill and is moving it forward so quickly. As was said earlier, there are now a number of items of legislation going through the Houses. I hope they will have an effect on the whole area of insurance and the way in which it is being used and abused throughout the State.

It is important to acknowledge that the number of people who engage in fraudulent or exaggerated claims is very small. We must also recognise and be conscious of the fact that the insurance industry itself uses these sometimes exaggerated claims as a reason for having such high premiums. My colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, in an exchange in a finance committee meeting exposed some of this. The insurance companies were claiming that up to 20% of claims were fraudulent. However, when they were pressed as to how many of these fraudulent claims they had reported to An Garda Síochána, there was practically none. It is very easy to throw numbers out but it is important to back them up. We must also be conscious of that. It would be very cavalier of us to put the idea out into the public domain that somehow or other fraudulent claims are causing the problem. The problem in our insurance industry is very much the greed of a small cohort of it.

This is not to say that the issue of perjury does not need to be dealt with appropriately. This legislation does that. We see ongoing issues in this regard, not just from the point of view of insurance but in many other cases. All of us are contacted by people who are at the end of their tether in that they either have been falsely accused or find that certain situations have developed in their lives such that they cannot find recourse to justice. At the core of this is something that has been done in a very vexatious or sinister way to destroy these people's lives. We see this sometimes in family disputes and at other times in disputes among neighbours and so on. If sound legislation is in place and these processes can be brought to a court, it may be a relief to a person found to have committed an act of perjury.

The advance of this Bill as quickly as possible through these Houses in the time we have left would be a very welcome development. I again commend the Bill. Senator Ó Céidigh is here with us and I congratulate him in particular and all the other Senators on the work they have done. I also congratulate the Minister on embracing the Bill and bringing it this far. I know he will have the support of everyone in the House to make this law as quickly as possible. It would be a welcome advancement.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. I congratulate the Senators on the passage of the Bill through the Seanad and on moving it on to this House. The Bill is to be welcomed. Perjury has been around for a long time, but this is the first time it will be properly defined in Irish law and treated as a specific criminal offence. It is currently treated as a common law offence and as such is deemed more difficult to prosecute. A ten-year jail sentence and a fine of up to €100,000 will, I hope, help to deter people, including gardaí, business people and State employees, from lying materially under oath, whether in court, at tribunals or during commissions of investigation. This legislation has been talked about mainly in conjunction with insurance claims and so on, so I will concentrate on that.

The creation of a specific criminal offence of perjury has been hailed as a way of combating personal injury fraud and consequently bringing down soaring insurance premiums. This is disingenuous. As we saw recently in the finance committee, large insurance firms are either exaggerating the number of fraudulent personal injury claims they receive in order to hike up premiums or grossly under-reporting them to An Garda Síochána. FBD, AXA, Allianz and AIG are all on record estimating one in five personal injury claims to be fraudulent. This 20% headline figure is the one that dominates the headlines, giving the impression that one fifth of claimants are fraudsters. However, digging deeper into the numbers paints a different picture altogether. Out of a total of 2,500 personal injury claims in 2018, AIG flagged 18%, or approximately 450, as suspicious but only reported four cases, or less than 1%, to the Garda. If this is a case of failing to report suspicions of fraud, the insurance companies could be breaking the law. Either way, they are not telling the whole truth. Mr. Justice Kevin Cross, the head judge in the personal injuries section of the High Court, recently stated that "it is fundamentally dishonest to blame supposedly fraudulent claims for the cost of insurance". Unfortunately, the insurance companies' spin is being widely accepted and repeated in the Dáil and in the media, leading to a total clouding of the real issue of insurance companies making huge profits from gouging their customers.

Unregulated insurance hikes are also leading to the closure of businesses, particularly in the leisure sector. There is no transparency as to how premiums are calculated. It can be difficult even to find details of one's own previous premiums before they were increased by the company. Anecdotally, I have heard of insurance renewal notices that do not refer to the customer's previous premium, with the person involved being required to follow up separately with the company in order to find out what his or her premium was for the previous year. Given that car insurance is a prerequisite for driving on the roads, this information should be made readily available in order that increases can be easily tracked. Companies should be required to provide details as to how they calculate premiums.

According to Insurance Ireland, 17 general insurers in the marketplace made combined operating profits of €227 million in 2017, up from €16 million in 2016, a profit increase of over 1,300%. Motor insurance was very profitable for insurers in 2017 - not so great for motorists though - with the 17 companies making a combined profit of €124.8 million on private and commercial motor insurance. The companies made 16.2% more on customers' motor premiums in 2017 than they did in 2016. These companies reported a loss of €24.6 million on employer liability, which is not much in the context of their profits.

The Central Bank is looking into reports that insurance companies are also scamming customers through dual pricing, whereby they charge renewal customers more than new clients, effectively penalising loyalty. This is not just an Irish phenomenon. A report by the UK Financial Conduct Authority in October stated that millions of customers of insurers operating in the UK were paying a total of £1.2 billion, or €1.4 billion, more than they should. This is shocking.

Insurance companies are cleaning up and it is time for us to look at insurance in a different way. New Zealand got rid of a tort-based system in 1974 in favour of the state-owned Accident Compensation Corporation. The ACC provides cover and compensation for all accidents and injuries in the country. Operating on a no-fault basis, the system is funded through general taxation and an employer levy. There is a fixed award structure, ensuring consistency in compensation for similar injuries. It is affordable and easy to navigate and claims are processed relatively quickly, so one might say it would never work here. Critics complain that the no-fault aspect could translate to no accountability, with people becoming more negligent in the absence of repercussions. In reality, however, this is a well-functioning system which has largely removed the element of blame. Furthermore, the fact that it is state-owned means the private insurance companies are prevented from capitalising on it.

Another idea would be to open up the insurance market across the EU, which would add to competition and result in lower premiums. In May of this year the European Commission launched a formal antitrust investigation into whether Insurance Ireland's InsuranceLink data pooling system is restricting competition by offering a competitive advantage to its subscribers, effectively operating a cartel. Excluding other companies from this data pool could potentially reduce motorists' choice of car insurance policies at more competitive rates. Antitrust investigations can take years to complete, but it will be very interesting to hear the outcome of this case. I think it will do more to reduce premiums than this legislation will.

There is also the question of whether this Bill will lead to meaningful change in deterring people from lying under oath. Section 25 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 provides that where a person gives or dishonestly causes to be given evidence in a personal injuries action that is false or misleading in any material respect, or which he or she knows to be false or misleading, he or she shall be guilty of an offence. Section 14 of the same Act requires the plaintiff to swear an affidavit as to the truth of all assertions, allegations and information provided to the defendant. However, the cost of insurance working group looked at the use of this legislation to date and found no prosecutions or convictions under section 14.

Ken Murphy, the director general of the Law Society, highlighted that there is a lack of will to pursue such cases. CSO figures show that only two perjury offences were recorded in each of the years 2011 and 2012. Why should we believe that this new Bill will radically change the position ? According to the 2016 Personal Injuries Assessment Board statistics, the number of employer liability workplace accident claims increased by 8.2%. The Irish SME Association, ISME, has lobbied for the introduction of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, citing the fraudulent claim spiel. Perhaps rather than vilifying the usually genuine injured party, it could perhaps focus more on addressing the cause of such accidents at work. Many of these incidents involve life-changing injuries which happened as the result of negligence on the part of an employer, so rather than engaging in victim-blaming, ISME should work on raising its members' standards. In conclusion, while I welcome this legislation in the hope that it will prevent people from lying in court to gain a personal advantage, I am sceptical that it will lead to lower insurance premiums. In this regard, it is being used as a distraction from the real need to properly regulate the insurance industry or to replace it with a fairer, State-run, not-for-profit alternative.

I am sharing time with Deputy Troy.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. I commend Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh on his work in this area. I also commend ISME. This is a very important Bill and I am glad that work has been done on it. The Bill will place perjury on the Statute Book as a statutory offence. It has not been classed as such an offence to date. Until now, it has been a common law offence and, as a result, has been quite difficult to prosecute in the courts. Consequently, many of those who lie on oath in a case or who exaggerate are often let off scot-free. There are consequences for lies that have been told in court. Reputations are damaged, livelihoods are lost and in more serious cases, liberty can be lost. The impact is most acutely felt in the area of insurance. A minority of people bring fraudulent or exaggerated claims. They lie in court, try to get compensation and rarely suffer any consequences. There is a right for genuine complainants to get fair compensation and to be allowed to prosecute their claims. Most people never see the inside of a court. Those who do are often nervous wrecks. However, a few seem to be very comfortable in there and like to come back again and again.

In the context of insurance, we have seen that community facilities, businesses, taxi drivers, hotels, crèches, pubs and many others have been crippled by high insurance costs and very often high premiums as a result of a claim culture. These claims and increases in insurance costs increase the cost of living, often causing the closure of businesses and community facilities. It is damaging our society and has now reached a crisis point. Communities are afraid to put on services for their community, such as activities for young people or cultural activities, because they are afraid of claims, and the social fabric is being damaged as a result. A message has to go out from here that there will be no more access to easy money for those who are prepared to lie in court.

We have to address the issue of genuine cases where the awards made are simply too high. Awards in the Republic are often multiples of those in the UK. People are entitled to fair compensation but not excessive compensation. Equally, for insurance companies that charge high premiums, the projects and efforts being undertaken in the Dáil and Seanad are to drive down premiums, not to increase profits for insurance companies. That message must be very clear.

I want to compliment a number of steps taken by my own party. Billy Kelleher, MEP, when a Member of this House, introduced the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018. The purpose of that Bill was to amend the Civil Liability Act to provide that where a court dismisses a case on the basis that it is a fraudulent action, the court must refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I also thank my colleague, Deputy Troy, who is pursuing that Bill and a number of other avenues to tackle fraudulent insurance cases in this country and the other ways in which insurance is unnecessarily being driven high.

Fianna Fáil would establish a national claims information database, an anti-fraud unit within An Garda Síochána, an index to track business insurance premiums and would update the Personal Injuries Assessment Board book of quantum regularly. Something that I experienced as a practising barrister is the inconsistency in awards that could be made in different parts of the country depending on where or who the case was taken against. The message must also go out to insurance companies that this Bill, which will make it a statutory offence to perjure oneself, not only applies to claimants but also to any defendant and anybody acting for an insurance company. The message must be very clear that one will not be allowed to go into court to lie to get easy money. This Bill will make it a statutory offence to perjure oneself and act as a deterrent to those who are thinking about that. If they go in to lie, they will be prosecuted.

I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I will preface my remarks by saying that insurance is there for people who have legitimate claims, who are legitimately injured or who experience a legitimate loss of income. I do not think that anyone is trying to undermine or reduce that legitimacy. People are trying to address the exorbitant increase in insurance premiums over the last years. I give full credit to Senator Ó Céidigh and ISME for the work that they have done in advancing this legislation. It is regrettable that it has taken six months to make its way from the Seanad to the Dáil. It shows the lack of priority that the Government attributes to this issue. It certainly did not take six months for the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, when passed in the Dáil, to make its way to the Seanad. We know the importance of ensuring that Bill moves through the various Stages. That is to keep a certain Minister happy. By keeping a certain Minister happy, the Government keeps itself in a job. There does not seem to be much worry around the Cabinet table about the many jobs-----

Deputy Troy is confused. In fact, he is confused most of the time. He should talk to his colleague about it.

There does not seem to be much concern about the tens of thousands of jobs that are currently under threat because of the exorbitant increases in insurance premiums. As my colleague has said, this is not the first Bill that has come before the House to address this. My party brought forward the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018. In that, in the event of a claimant being found to have a fraudulent or exaggerated claim, the judge shall make a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Government never accepted it. If the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2019 was enacted, claimants found guilty of making fraudulent claims would have to pay the legal fees of the defendants. I have written to the Minister about this legislation. I have raised it on the Order of Business. The Minister is nodding in disbelief or seems to be saying that I am somehow wrong but the fact is that I raised it on the Order of Business.

Deputy Troy is confused.

I wrote to the Minister.

Deputy Troy does not raise it when I am here. Does he raise it when I am not here?

The Minister has yet to respond. It is ironic that we are debating this legislation the weekend after Amy Molloy, an investigative journalist with the Irish Independent, to whom I give credit, published details of an undercover investigation she carried out during which she found that at least seven firms are sending clients to the same orthopaedic surgeon. She also found that some medical reports were found to be copied word for word with incorrect patient names. Solicitors and claimants asked doctors to amend medical reports, including about physical examinations for whiplash.

Our payouts for whiplash are the highest in the world. The article states: "One solicitor claimed he is paying a GP in bulk 'for up to 10 medical reports at a time', but said they 'do not have a special relationship'." That shows the seriousness that currently pertains to this issue. I do not intend to tar every solicitor or GP with one brush, but some GPs and lawyers are bringing their own professions into disrepute, and through their actions are driving up the costs of premiums.

Another report published in the Irish Independent today related to a captain of industry, an entrepreneur who has created thousands of jobs throughout this country in many rural and isolated areas where there is no other employment. I am referring to Pat McDonagh of Supermac's. Over recent years, he has fought fraudulent or exaggerated claims on eight occasions. He paid out approximately €35,000 in claims but paid a further €380,000 in legal fees. I am only a layman. I am not a legal professional and do not claim to be, but that is exorbitant by any stretch of the imagination. We are fortunate that Mr. McDonagh has the resources to challenge the prevailing culture. On many occasions, insurance companies told him it would be easier not to fight the case but to surrender, raise the white flag, and pay out the damages, but he refused. The reason he did so is quite clear, based on some of the cases brought against him.

One woman claimed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and stopped eating in restaurants after she allegedly found a thumbtack in her chips. However, she dropped the personal injuries case against Supermac's after footage emerged of her dining in a hotel at a time when she alleged she could not bring herself to go into a restaurant for food. In another case, a man went into a Supermac's in the midlands, took a photograph of the wet floor and then conveniently slipped. Again, he decided not to proceed with the case after footage of the incident was shown.

Mr. McDonagh is fortunate that he has the resources to challenge such cases. However, thousands of other small and medium-sized enterprises, including people who are self-employed, one and two-man operations, or those with five or six employees, working from week to week providing employment, do not have the resources to deal with court cases. They have no choice but to take on board what their insurance companies tell them and pay out the damages. When it comes time to renew their premiums 12 months later, if they can get a renewal, they then face huge increases.

Placing perjury on the Statute Book is not just about penalising those who commit perjury. It is also about preventing them from doing so in the first place. Tough sanctions may make people think twice about lying and perverting the course of justice. Making perjury a statutory criminal offence is not just about addressing fraudulent personal injury claims, although that is an important component. It is also about making accountable all those who lie in courts, commissions, or tribunals. This Bill proposes penalties of up to 12 months for conviction on a summary offence and up to ten years for conviction on indictment. The overarching objectives of the Bill are to provide for a statutory offence of perjury that can be clearly interpreted by investigators, prosecutors and courts alike; provide for statutory perjury related offences, including false statements under oath, false statutory declarations and false declarations; and provide for clear statutory penalties for perjury, to act as both deterrent for the offence of perjury and as sufficiently punitive penalties to reflect the substantial damaging effects caused by perjury. We want to achieve reduced premiums, not increased profits for the insurance companies. Addressing this is only one element of tackling the high costs of premiums. The insurance company cartel also needs to be addressed.

In that context, it is welcome that the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, requested that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, carry out a forensic audit of the public liability insurance market. She requested that study in the summer, after much pressure from across the political divide, because each and every one of us encounters this issue in our clinics daily and weekly. Four months later, in a reply to a parliamentary question I asked the Minister, she said:

The CCPC has commenced its study and I understand that a procurement process was launched to seek the services of external economic consultants to expedite the delivery of this study. These consultants will supplement the CCPC’s in-house expertise. The CCPC has advised me that the study is a priority and it will be concluded as soon as practicable.

If it is such a priority, why has the CCPC not set itself a deadline for when the study should be concluded? When asked at a committee meeting today, the Minister was unable to say when that might happen.

The crisis inflicted on small businesses and community groups by insurance premiums has been allowed drag on for far too long. This legislation will go some way towards addressing the increases in insurance premiums. I ask the Minister to take this opportunity to state clearly that the Bill will pass through the remaining Stages at an accelerated pace in order that it can be signed into law without any further delay. I also ask the Minister to address the two pieces of legislation my party has brought forward on this issue. Where do they stand and will the Government give them favourable consideration early in the new year, in whatever little time remains in the lifetime of this Dáil?

I again affirm that the Government is committed to passing this Bill, which I introduced in the House today. I welcome the support of Members and hope the Bill passes all Stages in this House.

Deputy Troy asked me a question but is engaged otherwise when the answer is being given. He seems to be the master of the soundbite on this issue.

I again thank Senator Ó Céidigh for moving this Bill so successfully through all Stages in the Seanad. Notwithstanding the fact that I am presenting the Bill in the Government's name, it is in essence in his name and I am pleased I can facilitate and support its passage through the Dáil.

I know it has been subjected to extensive rounds of consultation and scrutiny since it was introduced in the Seanad in October 2018. Indeed there was no delay. Any legislation requires considerable scrutiny and we need to ensure that at all stages and times, any legislation is constitutionally sound, legally robust and workable in a practical way. In this regard, my Department has consulted other Departments. We have engaged extensively. We have engaged with the Office of the Attorney General in our consideration of the Bill. The views of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions were sought, as were those of An Garda Síochána. The views of the Courts Service have also been received and given full and careful consideration.

As well as that, my officials have met Senator Ó Céidigh several times to discuss the provisions of the Bill and how it may be strengthened since it was introduced in the Seanad. I am keenly aware of the positive collaboration that has taken place and, again, am most grateful to Senator Ó Céidigh for the spirit in which the deliberations of the Bill were conducted so there was no delay.

I wish to flag to the House that the Government has approved some minor technical amendments to the Bill to be drafted for Committee Stage. On the basis of further engagement and consultation with the Attorney General, I may bring further amendments forward. Broadly speaking, I am very pleased the Government has the support of Departments, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Office of the Attorney General, the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána. The core objective is the delivery of a clearly defined statute dealing with the offence of perjury and related offences. The Government is fully supportive of the Bill in its intention to provide a legal framework to hold to account persons who engage in deceitful and fraudulent activity in their submission of sworn testimony or statements across various forms of judicial or other proceedings. I am confident that when enacted, this historic legislation will go a long way to counteracting all forms of malicious and deliberate dishonesty across legal or other official proceedings. We will be a better country for it. It is for this reason that I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.