The offence of perjury consists of deliberately giving false testimony in a judicial proceeding. In Queensland perjury is codified in section 123 of the Criminal Code Act 1899. If a person has been lawfully sworn in as a witness and knowingly makes a false statement that could affect the result of the proceeding, they can be charged with perjury. This is the case whether the person is an adult or a juvenile. Perjury is a very serious offence as it can undermine the integrity of the judicial system and result in miscarriages of justice.
The offence of perjury
Perjury can be oral or written and can occur regardless of the form of oath or affirmation the witness took. For the purposes of establishing that perjury has been committed it is irrelevant whether the witness was a competent witness and whether the statements made were admissible or not.
A judicial proceeding includes an investigative proceeding such as those undertaken by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
What are the elements of perjury?
For a court to find a person guilty of perjury, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- they were lawfully sworn in as a witness;
- the accused made the statement wilfully (as opposed to by mistake);
- the statement was false;
- the defendant knew the statement was false;
- the statement was material to the proceedings. In other words, the statement was capable of affecting the decision of the court.
Section 123A of the Act provides that if a person makes two contradictory statements on oath and the court is unable to determine which of them is false, the court can still find the accused guilty of perjury.
Maximum penalty for perjury
If perjury is committed in order to bring about the conviction of another person for a crime punishable by life imprisonment, then the maximum penalty that applies is imprisonment for life.
In any other case, the maximum for perjury is imprisonment for 14 years (section 124).
A person cannot be found guilty solely on the testimony of one witness (section 125).
There are a number of defences that can be advanced in relation to a charge.
Honest but mistaken belief
It is an effective defence if the person genuinely believes the statement to be true or that they answered incorrectly because they misunderstood the question that was being asked. The accused could also run the defence that they gave incorrect information because they had relied on incorrect information by someone else.
Statement was not false
It is an effective defence that the statement made by the accused was not false or that it was true in the literal sense.
Statement was not made under oath
Only a false statement made when a person has been lawfully sworn in as a witness can be the basis for a charge of perjury. An untrue statement made when not under oath is not perjury.
Which court will hear the matter?
Perjury is an indictable offence and is heard in the District Court.
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