This is a short Bill to enable this country to comply with an obligation which arises directly from membership of the European Communities. Under the Treaties a member State is obliged to treat 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. As Senators are aware, the court sits in Luxembourg. The effect of the Treaty provisions is, therefore, to compel us to take extra-territorial jurisdiction in respect of false testimony before the court.
Section 1 of the Bill makes it an offence under our law for a person before the court to swear anything which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true. Section 2 is a technical jurisdiction provision.
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. This is provided for in its supplementary rules, which were revised last year at the same time as the court's rules of procedure and were approved by the Council of Ministers on the 26th November last.
While it is necessary for us to make this provision in our law, I think it is right to mention that since the institution of the court 23 years ago it has never reported a case of perjury to a member State. Consequently, there is no case law on the matter either from the court itself or from the courts of any of the member States.
Of course, the procedure before the European Court differs substantially from the procedure before our courts. The procedure is mainly a written one and it is not at all common for the court to hear witnesses or experts. It is interesting to note that both witnesses and experts take the oath after they have been heard by the court and that the court may, after hearing the parties, exempt a witness or an expert from taking the oath.
Perjury under our law is a common law misdemeanour. As such it is an indictable offence but, in certain circumstances, it may be tried summarily under the Criminal Justice Act, 1951, as amended by the Criminal Procedure Act, 1967.
I commend the Bill for the favourable consideration of the House.