Perjury in Tasmania
Perjury is the willful giving of false testimony or willful making of misrepresentation under oath. In Tasmania, the offence of perjury is prohibited under section 94 of the Criminal Code Act 1924. A person who is sworn in as a witness in a judicial proceeding can be found guilty of perjury for knowingly giving false information, but only if that information could affect the outcome of the proceeding.
Offence of Perjury
A witness swears an oath or affirmation before a person who is legally authorised to administer the oath and authenticate or record the statement. In a judicial proceeding, a person who is legally sworn as a witness or interpreter commits an offence if they wilfully make a statement knowing it to be false or untruthful. Basically, perjury is the act of lying under oath about an important matter. This applies to witnesses in all types of legal proceedings, including a defendant in their own criminal trial. For example, giving a false alibi to someone under oath is a criminal offence. Even a witness at an inquiry commission or investigative proceeding risks committing perjury if they deliberately lie about an important fact.
Perjury can be committed in an oral or written statement. When establishing perjury, it is irrelevant whether the individual was a competent witness or the evidence was admissible in the proceeding.
In order to prove a charge of perjury, the prosecution must establish that the evidence was deliberately false. A witness should not fear a charge of perjury for making a mistake in their evidence. A perjury charge is typically reserved for an instance when a witness has deliberately and demonstrably lied about a matter that was “material” to the case. As such, a witness who lies under oath about an immaterial matter (such as their weight) does not commit perjury unless this fact is directly relevant to the case.
There must be compelling corroboration to establish a perjury charge. Essentially, there must be independent evidence supporting the claim that the witness deliberately lied under oath.
Penalty For Perjury Tasmania
A person convicted of perjury will not only have a criminal record but may be imprisoned or fined. The penalty for perjury is typically quite severe, and imprisonment is a common sentence. The sentence depends on the circumstances and the nature of the perjured evidence.
The Supreme Court of Tasmania recently sentenced Glenn Andrew Wakefield on a charge of perjury and perverting justice. In State of Tasmania v Glenn Andrew Wakefield (2018), Justice Brett sentenced Mr Wakefield after a jury found him guilty of offences including one count of perjury. Mr Wakefield was involved in a serious vehicular accident with a motorcycle. Given the nature of the incident, a specialist accident investigator attended the scene. Immediately after the accident, Mr Wakefield phoned his father (a retired police inspector), who arrived at the scene and repeatedly entered the accident area to remove tools from his son’s vehicle.
The police administered a breath alcohol test which returned a 0 blood alcohol reading, but the Sergeant in charge ordered that Mr Wakefield be taken to the hospital for a blood test. His father was upset by these actions and made several enquiries about the extent of police powers. The father subsequently wrote to the Commissioner of Police, making a complaint about police conduct at the accident scene. He alleged that his son was assaulted by a police officer, and he himself was assaulted by the accident investigator. When the complaint was investigated, Glenn Wakefield repeated these allegations and claimed to have witnessed the accident investigator punching his father in the stomach several times. This allegation was particularly serious as his father had undergone a cancer operation that removed his bladder, and a punch to the stomach had the potential to cause severe internal trauma.
The investigation into the allegation established that the complaint was false. GPS tracking records prove that the accident investigator did not arrive at the scene until after Mr Wakefield was taken to the hospital. During a Magistrates Court case related to the accident, Mr Wakefield gave evidence while under oath stating that he had spoken to the accident investigator at the scene. He gave this false evidence because he was concerned about maintaining the misrepresentation told to the police. During the subsequent perjury trial, the jury determined that these allegations were false, and Mr Wakefield knowingly made these untrue statements. The court found that Mr Wakefield made these statements intending that the police officer be prosecuted for the alleged assaults.
Justice Brett pointed out the seriousness of the offence, not only because it undermines the justice system but also because his intent was to commit perjury to cause harm to a serving police officer. The judge decided that a significant sentence was warranted for general deterrence, denunciation, and vindication of the police officer. There was some consideration for the length of delay in hearing the matter. Justice Brett sentenced Mr Wakefield to 18 months imprisonment, with early release on parole after half the sentence is served.
Perjury is considered a serious offence as it can undermine the integrity of the judicial system and can result in a miscarriage of justice. If you have further questions about the offence of perjury in Tasmania, please contact our criminal law team or call 1300 636 846 for any legal assistance.