That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to support the immediate establishment by the House of the Select Committee on Justice and for Committee Stage of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad] to be the first item of business on the agenda and that this should occur no later than 31 October, 2020.
The motion seeks to immediately establish the Select Committee on Justice and to take Committee Stage of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. We believe that it is a priority that this legislation be brought to Committee Stage and be enacted into law.
This is a Seanad Private Members' Bill that was sponsored by Pádraig Ó Céidigh and received the unanimous support of the previous Seanad. It was reinstated on the Order Paper earlier this week and we want to expedite it because at the moment perjury is a common law offence, which is rarely prosecuted. On average, there are three cases before the court in any particular year. The objective of the Bill is to clearly provide for perjury as a statutory offence and to make it a criminal offence with the possibility of ten years for conviction on indictment.
It is to provide a clear legal framework to hold a person to account who engages in deceitful or fraudulent activity in sworn testimony or in statements. We hear about issues every day relating to the cost of insurance, insurance fraud and exaggerated claims. Colleagues will speak about that later. The difficulty at the moment is that perjury is not clearly defined. This was a weakness in the statutes as far back as 1911 when the House of Commons introduced the Perjury Act 1911. The difficulty is that it was never extended to Ireland. In Northern Ireland, perjury was defined on statute there in 1946 but we have never done so here. The objective is to establish perjury as a statutory criminal offence just like theft or burglary. We need to have a modern statute that is clear and unambiguous and not have the vague definition that we have at the moment.
We believe it is imperative that this legislation be fast-tracked now through the Oireachtas because every day we read in the newspapers about cases and claims that are thrown out of the courts either because of exaggerated or fraudulent accusations being made or simply because judges do not believe the person that is taking the case. Some very detailed cases have been exposed in this regard. The Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, has a video online that people can watch of an individual who sought €60,000 after his bike was struck by an untraceable car. The video footage shows the individual lifting a wheelchair in and out of a car and yet when he goes in for his medical assessment, he is put into the wheelchair. That is just one of many examples in this regard.
In the current climate, everyone is talking about personal injuries, fraud and all that goes with that, but perjury is a much wider issue than the insurance claims aspect of it. People can tell appalling lies in commercial and family cases, and in many other areas, and do great damage to others, either personally or financially, while they may amass substantial gains as a result of their behaviour. It is important that there are sanctions for telling lies under oath, not merely in court but also in an affidavit that is going to influence the outcome of a court case. Irrespective of the issues, the objective is to place perjury on the Statute Book. It is not just about penalising those who commit the offence of perjury, but it is also about preventing people from doing it in the first place. By providing tough sanctions, the objective is that people would think twice before lying and before diverting the course of justice.