“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 the 31st October, 2020.” — Cathal Berry, Seán Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Matt Shanahan, Peadar Tóibín. [24 July, 2020]
I wish to thank the Regional Group of TDs for moving this Motion in the House this evening. I am pleased to inform the House that the Government supports this motion and is indeed, fully committed to enacting the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 as soon as possible. The importance the Government attaches to this legislation is reflected in our commitment to enact this legislation in the current Programme for Government and I look forward to working with all Deputies in this House in delivering on that commitment.
It would be remiss of me to refer to the successful passage of this important Bill through the Houses to date without acknowledging the considerable contribution of former Senator Padraigh Ó Céidigh and his team. As principal sponsor of this Bill when it was introduced to the Seanad as a Private Member’s Bill at the end of 2018, he worked tirelessly and cooperatively with my predecessor Minister Flanagan and other stakeholders in steering the Bill through the Seanad with cross party and Government support. It is also important I acknowledge Minister Flanagan’s valuable contribution in moving necessary amendments to the Bill and allowing it to be moved in the Dáil through its adoption as a Government Bill at the end of 2019. The Government has been supportive of this Bill to date, both in the 32nd and this 33rd Dáil, and I want to assure this House that the Government and I will continue to accord this Bill the importance and priority it merits by working to achieve its enactment as soon as possible. In that connection, my Officials have consulted widely with other Government Departments and Offices in relation to this Bill and are working with the Office of the Attorney General on preparing proposed Committee Stage amendments. These are mainly technical amendments to references in the Schedule of the Bill and I look forward to bringing a Memorandum to Government on this matter in advance of Committee Stage.
As the Deputies may be aware, Committee Stage was initially scheduled for this Bill in the Dáil on the 22nd January 2020 but the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil on the 14th January 2020. Now that we have recently formed a new Government, I am delighted to confirm that this Bill has been restored to the Dáil Order Paper and that it has full Government support regarding the prospect of its early passage through this House to enactment. Of course, notwithstanding the eagerness I share with Deputies in speedily progressing this Bill, this House will appreciate that the Government and I will need to be mindful of the advice of the Attorney General in ensuring this Bill holds up to legal scrutiny as we progress it through the outstanding legislative stages. In terms of the Motion before this House, I should also note that the establishment of a Select Committee is a matter for the relevant House and the priority given to Committee Stage of a Bill is a matter for the relevant Committee. That said, I wish to place on record my support for the early establishment by the House of the Select Committee on Justice. Moreover, in accordance with this Motion before the House, I would welcome any decision by a newly established Select Committee to afford priority to this Bill in determining the scheduling of their business in the Autumn Session.
It is never acceptable to lie on oath or, for that matter, when undergoing any formal legal proceedings and this Bill is a significant legislative mechanism which will not only provide for considerable penalties against those who commit the offence of perjury or related offences, it will also have a substantial deterrent effect regarding the making of fraudulent claims or statements by those persons who may be minded to do so. Historically, we know that the offence of perjury has proven difficult to prosecute under the common law and the number of successful prosecutions tend to be in single figures in any given year. Yet history also tells us that, all too frequently, some people have deliberately made false statements or lied in official legal proceedings which materially affected the course of justice. I join with Deputies across this House in championing this Bill as a bulwark against such deceitful and fraudulent conduct and actions.
The Bill when enacted will provide a clear definition of perjury and simply put, should enable the offence and related offences to be more easily prosecuted in the courts. The Bill will provide clear direction to the Courts in respect of the necessary penalties to be applied regarding the nature of the offence that is being prosecuted. The penalties in this Bill are in line with that of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 regarding false evidence and fraudulent claims. Assuming this Bill is enacted, the maximum penalty on summary conviction is a Class B fine or a term of imprisonment of twelve months. The maximum penalty on indictment for which a person may be liable on conviction under this legislation is an imprisonment term of ten years and/or a fine of €100,000. This sends a clear message to would-be abusers of court time that the making of deliberate falsehoods and statements across legal and other proceedings, if proven to be the case, will not go unpunished and may result in serious consequences for the individual concerned. I am confident that this Bill will go a long way in deterring those who may be considering providing dishonest evidence during legal proceedings. Of course, it may be noted that those penalties provided for in Section 13 of the Bill are penalty and sentencing maximum point ceilings and serve to guide a Judge in determining an appropriate sanction. The Judge clearly has a discretion to impose a sanction on a person convicted under this legislation below that ceiling depending on the Judge’s view of the gravity of the offence.
The Bill also consolidates other relevant legislation in this area of perjury and knowingly making false statements in formal legal proceedings.
The deterrent effect of this legislation is likely to be considerable and a very welcome development, particularly in relation to the cost of insurance. This is one of a number of measures dealing with insurance issues, insurance fraud and exaggerated claims. Concentrating on insurance reform is one of the key priorities for this Government and addressing this area is one of the core elements of the Programme for Government. The Government is keenly aware that insurance costs present a hugely significant issue for businesses, motorists, households and a range of sporting, community and voluntary groups. The Government will continue to prioritise reform of the insurance sector with particular emphasis on motor, public liability and employer liability insurance. This House will be aware that the Programme for Government commits to the establishment of a cabinet sub-committee to deal urgently with insurance reform. More specifically, regarding the matter of insurance fraud to which prosecutions may be brought upon enactment of this Perjury and Related Offences Bill, the Government has committed to increasing coordination and cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry. We will seek to expand the Garda Economic Crime Bureau which deals with fraud. We will ensure that relevant fraudulent claims are forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Additionally, insurance fraud data will be published to allow us to analyse this area with a view to taking the appropriate actions to address any pertinent issues. This Bill, when enacted, will be a very important measure in countering insurance fraud and the compensation culture and high cost of insurance that it fuels.
Of course it will also have general application in other areas where statutory statements and declarations are required. It will serve as a clear message to anyone engaged in legal proceedings that they need to be mindful of the need to tell the truth and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties that will be at the judge’s discretion to impose.
I again wish to re-iterate that the Government and I share the sense of importance and priority that the Regional Group, through this Motion before us this evening, attach to this Bill and its early enactment. I certainly share the objective of seeing Committee Stage of this Bill scheduled and passed before the 31st October of this year subject to parliamentary scheduling decisions, and I look forward to the enactment of this Bill before the end of the year.
I would like to thank the Regional Group for putting down this important Motion and confirm that it has the Government’s support. I look forward to updating the House on future developments.