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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Jun 2019

Vol. 266 No. 8

Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages

Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 7, to delete lines 12 to 14 and substitute the following:
“ “judicial or other proceeding” means a proceeding before any—
(a) court,
(b) tribunal, including a tribunal of inquiry or a commission of investigation, or
(c) person having by law power to hear, receive and examine evidence on oath;”.

Amendment No. 1 is to provide for the inclusion of tribunals of inquiry and commissions of investigation within the scope of the Bill. On the application of the offence of perjury and related offences, the legal advice I have received indicates that those particular forms of proceedings are not involved in the administration of justice per se. One possible problem with the Bill, therefore, is that it appears to define a proceeding as primarily involving the administration of justice and then states that this includes tribunals. A question might arise if this formula includes tribunals of inquiry as well as decision-making tribunals. A tribunal of inquiry or commission of investigation does not administer justice. They are concerned exclusively with the finding of facts. I am proposing, therefore, with the consent of Senator Ó Céidigh and others, that the definition of judicial or other proceedings is revised for the purposes of this Bill to remove the reference to administration of justice and to include the tribunals of inquiry as well as decision-making tribunals within its defined legal meaning. If we adopt this amendment, it will effectively broaden the scope in which a statutory offence of perjury may be prosecuted. Broadening the scope of this legislation such that perjury may be statutorily prosecuted, both within fact-finding courts and tribunals as well as in tribunals of inquiry, is a laudable objective in pursuit of fact-finding, truth and honesty across all forms of official legal proceedings. I trust that Senator Ó Céidigh has no difficulty with this amendment and I welcome his support.

I strongly agree with this Government amendment and I understand the strategy and aim behind it. It strengthens the Perjury and Related Offences Bill that my team and I drew up. I support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 8 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. However, as none of the signatories to the amendments is present, they will not be moved.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 11, to delete lines 4 to 7 and substitute the following:
“(a) on summary conviction, to a class B fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both, or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both.”.

The purpose of this amendment is to bring the penalties provision in this Private Members' Bill in line with those of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which, inter alia, stipulates penalty levels for false evidence and fraudulent claims. I propose to amend the relevant section of this Bill rather than that of the 2004 Act in terms of the maximum penalty on indictment for this type of offence because the 2004 Act reflects Government policy in this jurisdiction. There is the question of the changing value of money over time, given that it has been 15 years since the 2004 Act came into force. I am satisfied to specify the amount of €100,000 for the purpose of proposing an amendment to this section. The penalty provision as it stands provides for a coherence within the equivalent penalties provided for in Northern Ireland in terms of the maximum penalty on indictment. It is somewhat more important and appropriate to ensure consistency of provisions in this jurisdiction. Assuming this amendment is passed, the maximum penalty on indictment for which a person may be liable on conviction under this legislation is, therefore, imprisonment for a term of ten years, a fine of €100,000 or both.

The purpose of this amendment is to send a clear message to would-be abusers of court time that the utterance of deliberate falsehoods and the making of false statements during legal proceedings will, if proven, not go unpunished and may result in very serious consequences for the individual concerned. I am confident that this measure will go a long way towards deterring those who may be considering providing dishonest evidence in the course of legal proceedings.

Arís tugaim tacaíocht don leasú seo. I support this Government amendment, which was created in consultation with me and my team. It contains one real, substantive change whereby the maximum sentence for perjury has been increased from seven years to ten. We originally had a sentence of seven years in order to be in line with the situation in Northern Ireland and the UK. On reflection, and following conversations and meetings with the Minister's officials, we understand and accept the rationale of changing it to ten years to create consistency with legislation in Ireland. I am very happy to accept these changes.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 5:
In page 12, line 10, to delete “section 15(2)” and substitute “section 16(2)”.

These amendments are grouped together as they are technical in nature and correct a cross-referencing error in sections 17(2), 17(3) and 17(4). I do not believe that there is any great need to have a considered debate on this. I ask for the support of the House.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 12, line 13, to delete “section 15(2)” and substitute “section 16(2)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 12, line 17, to delete “section 15(2)” and substitute “section 16(2)”.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 19, to delete lines 21 to 24.

This was part of a suite of amendments and the earlier ones have not been moved. I wanted to draw the Minister's attention to a problem that exists in respect of witnesses being sworn in during proceedings. They are required to justify an affirmation by explaining their religious beliefs. The Law Society, as I understood-----

I do not wish to impress anything on the Seanad which might not be in conformity with Standing Orders but I am here week after week after week and am pulled up on technicalities all the time. My understanding was that these amendments were already the subject of an invitation to speak, which was not responded to in spite of the presence in the Chamber of one of the proponents. I am in the hands of the Chair.

I understand that Senator McDowell has the right to move the amendment at any point.

I just wanted to draw to the Minister's attention the views of the Law Society that there should be an amendment to the law. That is all.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

It is only right that we pay tribute to the person, Senator Ó Céidigh, who put all the work in. I congratulate him on something significant. We are here to pass legislation and this is certainly a very good day. It is great to see people being able to get Private Members' Bills over the line. I also thank the Minister for his co-operation with Senator Ó Céidigh and others in this regard.

I commend the Senators on bringing this Bill forward. It is long awaited and we are very proud to support it. It is a very real piece of the puzzle of solving the high insurance costs that businesses face. Successive Governments have failed to do this and I am very glad that some Independent Senators took the initiative and put this Bill forward. I am also very glad it has received such support in the House.

This is a very big day for me. During my time in the Seanad, I have sometimes asked whether I am really making a contribution, although I give it my best shot. I suppose that is human nature. The Bill is the culmination of a personal journey. It shows how sometimes, even without power, resources or the backing of a Department or the Attorney General, good laws can be formulated by individuals. It shows the importance of the Upper House and validates the work that Senators McDowell, Norris and others have done to protect its relevance.

We are fortunate to have the support of some excellent drafters. I availed of this support and I especially thank Kieran Mooney for his contribution to the creation of this robust Bill. The journey focused on a number of significant stakeholder consultations. I reached out to the Minister and I greatly appreciate his very active support for the Bill. I thank An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Law Reform Commission, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Rape Crisis Centre, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME, Victim Support and others. ISME in particular put the prospect of placing perjury on a statutory footing firmly on the public agenda. I pay tribute to the campaign it ran on behalf of its members, many of whom are penalised through high insurance premiums precisely because of perjury being committed within and outside the jurisdiction of our courts. Up to now, there have been virtually no prosecutions in respect of this crime. In the past ten years, there have only been 31 recorded incidents of perjury in our courts. Placing perjury on the Statute Book is not just about penalising those who commit perjury. It is primarily about preventing them from doing it in the first instance. That is a big motivator for changing the sentence from seven to ten years. Tough sanctions may make someone think twice about lying and subverting the course of justice.

I hope the Bill will have a practical impact on business, especially small businesses. Over the years, I have personally known scores of small business owners who have suffered significantly because someone knowingly lied in court. In some cases, their businesses went under as a direct result of people committing perjury. My initiative to place perjury on a statutory footing as a criminal offence is not just about addressing fraudulent personal injury claims, although it is a very important component. It is about bringing accountability to all those who lie in our courts, commissions and tribunals.

I wish to pay special tribute to the two officials seated behind the Minister, who have worked very actively with me, my team and my personal assistant, Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, in bringing this Bill to fruition. Anyone who has the misfortune of facing into court proceedings or giving jury service knows that every day of the week there are people taking oath or swearing an affidavit stating facts that they know to be false. As a nation, we have endured multiple tribunals and commissions of inquiry that have taken place while knowing that people have lied.

In some cases, we discovered years later that blatant lies materially affected the course of justice without any consequences for the liar. There are people guilty of heinous crimes such as assault, sexual assault, robbery and extortion walking our streets because somebody went into court and lied on their behalf. Unfortunately, the innocent parties in such circumstances suffered greatly. I hope that such suffering will be significantly reduced as a result of the Bill.

I wish to thank my Independent colleagues, our researcher, Mr. James Geoghegan, and the departmental officials. We are privileged to have such good and committed civil servants in the Department. It gives me great confidence in the Department of Justice and Equality and in the Minister, as its head, in regard to the Bill. I thank the members of all political parties and none who have supported the Bill. I deeply appreciate it. I hope that our colleagues in the Dáil will pass this much-needed legislation in order that the President can sign it into law. I appreciate the cross-party support for the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018.

On behalf of the Government, I acknowledge the importance of this legislation and the leadership by Senator Ó Céidigh and his team in this regard. The Government fully supports the Bill and its intention to provide for the first time a statutory framework to hold to account persons who engage in deceitful activity or fraudulent behaviour in their submission of sworn testimony or statements across various forms of judicial or other proceedings.

I wish to acknowledge the deterrent effect of the legislation. It will act as a bulwark against vexatious and dishonest evidence. It is likely to be a very welcome development, particularly in regard to the cost of insurance, as has been stated. It is part of a package of measures dealing with insurance issues such as fraud and exaggerated claims. Of course, it will also have a more general application. It is a clear message to anybody engaged in legal proceedings that they need to be mindful of the need to tell the truth at all times and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties which may be imposed at the discretion of the judge or court should that be deemed appropriate.

I again acknowledge the leadership of Senator Ó Céidigh in particular as the main sponsor of the Bill and, indeed, the members of his background team. In particular, he mentioned Mr. James Geoghegan - now Councillor James Geoghegan - who I thank for his efforts on the Bill and his influence over the Independent Group-----

The Minister never misses a trick.

------which I hope will continue, notwithstanding his election as a member of the Fine Gael group on his local authority.

I say "Well done" to the Minister. One must hand it to him.

I acknowledge the input of my officials, who were active in ensuring that the Bill was proofed and who proposed several amendments in order to facilitate the passage of the legislation as we approach the summer recess. I look forward to further engaging with Senator Ó Céidigh on the Bill until it is completed in its entirety.

I join the Minister in thanking Senator Ó Céidigh for his contribution. Sorry, I was not aware that Senator McDowell was waiting to speak.

I wish to add my words of congratulations to Senator Ó Céidigh on taking the initiative to start the process which led to the Bill passing through the House. When he came to our Independent Group with this proposal, it seemed to me that he faced a number of insurmountable odds, but he has, by his industry and persistence, brought all the parties in the House with him. He brought the Government, the Minister, the Department of Justice and Equality and many bodies in civil society on board as well. It is a great tribute to him that he has had this success and I warmly congratulate him on his achievement.

As he and the Minister stated, there must be consequences for perjury. There has been a period during which, on the face of it, many offences of perjury have been committed without sanction. The great advantage of what the Senator has achieved is that he has extended the prosecutable category of perjury on a clear statutory basis to tribunals of inquiry, commissions of inquiry and other tribunals where, as we have seen shocking deception has previously taken place, apparently without consequence. That is a sad fact borne out by the Moriarty report, for example.

It is one thing to enact a law; it is another to prosecute for a breach of that law. I hope that the Department, which has an overarching role in this matter, will bring to the attention of An Garda Síochána in particular that this is a serious offence and that resources must be made available when instances become apparent for its proper investigation and prosecution. As Senator Ó Céidigh stated, some people who have small businesses and are not insured can be put out of business and made bankrupt by a lie, even if they have CCTV footage to back up their side of the story. Their businesses and livelihoods and their families' livelihoods are put in peril by such behaviour and mendacity.

I again warmly congratulate the Senator on his courage, initiative, persistence and success in bringing the Bill before the House. I thank the Minister, his departmental officials and all the other people who have been mentioned, including Councillor Geoghegan, for all of their influence, to use the Minister's phrase, as well as their co-operation and goodwill in getting the Bill passed.

I concur with fellow Senators and congratulate Senator Ó Céidigh on the Bill. It is interesting because it highlights a couple of things, as the Senator indicated, such as the importance of this House and the ability to move this type of legislation. It also highlights the importance of the fact that legislation needs to move with the times as something that was not a problem a few years ago has become a very significant problem. The current culture and climate of litigation and claims makes the Bill even more relevant and appropriate. I applaud the Senator for his endurance, tenacity and persistence. There were obstacles but, as he stated, the Bill received cross-party support. Congratulations to all those involved, including the Minister and the staff and officials who worked on the Bill.

Tá ardmholadh tuillte ag an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh. Ní rud furasta é a leithéid de reachtaíocht a chur tríd an Teach, fiú mar bhall de pháirtí polaitíochta, agus ní rud éasca é do Sheanadóir neamhspleách ach go háirithe. Ta sé déanta ag an Seanadóir go héifeachtach, mar atá ráite. Tá súil agam, mar a dúirt an Seanadóir McDowell, go gcuirfear leis an reachtaíocht seo agus go mbeimid in ann cur i láthair éifeachtach a fheiceáil i measc an chórais taobh amuigh de na Tithe seo. I echo the words of congratulations for Senator Ó Céidigh. It is not an easy process to bring legislation so effectively and unanimously through the House but, as Senator Marshall rightly stated, Senator Ó Céidigh has done so with great tenacity and in a great spirit of collaboration.

The core premise of the legislation is to consolidate and simplify the law. It aims to enable more effective punishment of those who commit the crime of perjury. I agree with Senator McDowell - worryingly, that is a common occurrence for me in this House - when he states that it is one thing to enact legislation such as this, but another entirely for it to be effectively implemented and enforced.

For all of the reasons that have been highlighted by colleagues, that is what we need to see happen beyond the realms of this place. Molaim an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh. Go n-éirí leis an reachtaíocht seo.

I join with the previous Senators and speakers regarding the success of this Bill. I wholeheartedly congratulate my colleague, Senator Ó Céidigh, for, as someone said, his tenacity, persistence and focus. I acknowledge the role of the Minister and his Department with regard to this legislation. With regard to new politics, this proves that when people collaborate and sometimes compromise with each other, we can achieve good things. This is a good Bill. Not many Independent politicians get a Bill through these Houses. Well done to all involved who participated and engaged in this process because that is the important thing about politics, lawmakers and making legislation. Well done in particular to Senator Ó Céidigh, who took the initiative, ran with it and stuck with it. He made it an issue that he was personally involved with. That is his style. He champions things and he gets them over the line. I thank the Minister for his support and co-operation.

I join with my colleagues in congratulating my fellow countyman, Senator Ó Céidigh, for bringing forward this Bill. I know that this issue of fraudulent claims, etc., goes back a long way in Galway. The Galway business community will be extremely proud of their local son who has brought this Bill forward. I congratulate the Senator. It says much to his character, his ability to bring people onside and to get them behind an idea. It has shone through in this Bill, which he must be proud of. Those who engage with him and the business people of Galway will be proud of what he has done.

I will turn to the Minister. Not every Minister is open to a new Bill being introduced by an Independent Member. I congratulate the Minister and his staff for their willingness to listen to the arguments from Senator Ó Céidigh, to offer advice and assistance, and to the Minister for sitting here calmly and working his way through the Bill with the group. I appreciate what the Minister has done. I know that when this gets to the Dáil, he will be equally agreeable in trying to move this forward, because I think he too is committed to it. I am delighted that the Independent Group in the Seanad provided sufficient training for Councillor Geoghegan to make it to the position of councillor for Fine Gael. If Fine Gael has anybody else who needs training, feel free to send them our way.

We might even bring Senator Craughwell on board.

Senator Craughwell was already discussing training on the Order of Business and it did not go too well.

They trained Senator Craughwell well before he left.

I join with colleagues in congratulating Senator Ó Céidigh and his co-sponsor colleagues. I am aware of his success in business over many decades. It is quite obvious that if one puts one's mind to something, one can achieve it. I am glad that that is being extended to politics. I thank the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.