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When is a statutory declaration not actually a statutory declaration?
This is what the NSW Police have been considering, after an allegation of swearing a false statutory declaration was made in relation to a political hopeful.
Party rules often require that a candidate for pre-selection swear a statutory declaration that confirms certain matters of interest to pre-selectors. The Liberal Party in the electorate of North Shore required that Felicity Wilson confirm that she had lived in the electorate at certain times. It was then alleged that the purported statutory declaration that Ms Wilson signed was inaccurate in the residential history it revealed.
The matter was reported to the authorities, but Police have declined to prosecute, telling media that that the document was not a statutory declaration. It appears that the document Ms Wilson signed suggested that it was a statutory declaration pursuant to the Oaths Act 1990.
The problem for the police is that there is no Oaths Act 1990 – the correct citation is Oaths Act 1900.
It seems somewhat extraordinary that such a technical fault could be enough to terminate an investigation – but it appears that police have formed the view that the document was not a statutory declaration, and as such there could not be a successful prosecution for swearing a false declaration.
Whilst this may seem like a ridiculous distinction, it is a good example of how what seems like an obvious criminal offence may not be so obvious once someone looks at the detail. Certain media outlets may describe this as a “technicality”, but the law is not about what is moral, or what feels wrong – it is about what is wrong according to the law, as passed by the legislature of New South Wales.
In this case, the legislation is precisely drafted, and it is necessary for a court to be satisfied that the precise terms of the legislation have been breached.
It may be the case that Ms Wilson is lucky. It may even be the case that the statutory declaration was intentionally misdrafted. Either way, the authorities cannot prove the offence against her, and it is difficult to criticise their decision to refuse to prosecute.
Image Credit – Iakov Filimonov © 123RF.com
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