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When a witness swears under oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, failing to do so can result in criminal prosecution. This rule does not only apply to taking the stand and testifying in Court. Instead, it extends to certain documents that people sign which carry the same weight as swearing before a judge.
Many people know that they can get into trouble with the law if law enforcement catches them lying while testifying under oath. Who cannot help but appreciate the gravity of standing before a judge, placing a hand on the bible, and swearing to give an honest account?
However, many people fail to understand that signing an affidavit, a witness statement, complaint, or any other document that requires the signer to tell the truth, has the same effect. So, in this article, we will look at the definition of perjury under South Australian law, its penalty upon commission, and possible defences.
If an individual is convicted in a South Australian (SA) court for a perjury offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a Criminal History Check result in South Australia.
Section 242 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), makes it an indictable crime in SA for a person to make a false statement under oath. Doing this makes the offender liable to a maximum of 7 years imprisonment.
Another crime that the law in this section creates is the subornation of perjury. This offence involves counselling, inducing, procuring, aiding or abetting another person to make a false statement under oath. The penalty for this crime is also a maximum of 7 years in prison.
However, for a South Australian court to find a person guilty of any of these offences, the prosecution must prove the following elements.
Section 242(5)(a) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) clarifies that an oath under this law includes affirmations. Affirmations are alternatives to oaths. While they are also verbal attestations to the truth of a statement, a witness makes them without swearing to God or a faith.
All the witness has to say is, ‘I do solemnly and truly affirm.’
This element requires the prosecution to prove the falsehood of the accused's statement. It also entails showing that the defendant was the one to make the statement. In establishing this element, the prosecution can rely on a genuine transcript of evidence given in the relevant judicial proceedings. Such a transcript can serve as proof of:
While some other states like Victoria allow corroborative evidence as proof of perjury, South Australian law does not require it. According to Section 242(4) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), the Court does not need corroborative evidence to convict a person of perjury or subornation of perjury.
Section 242(5)(b) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) defines a false statement as one that the person making it knows to be untrue or does not believe it to be true. The prosecution must show that the accused person knew while giving the statement in question that it was not true.
This principle also applies to the subornation of perjury. The prosecution must prove that the accused knew when inducing the other person to make the statement that it was false.
However, if the defendant made the statement with inadvertence, misunderstanding or carelessness, they will not be guilty of perjury. The same applies if the accused had an honest but mistaken belief that the statement was true. Note that honesty does not always mean accuracy. As such, a person’s statement might be honest while being inaccurate.
As per Section 242(5)(b) of the Act, the Court will only consider a statement to be false if it is untrue in a material particular. This element means that the report must have been significant enough to affect the Court's decision regarding a fact in issue.
It also means that the statement was in actuality relevant to the case in question.
Despite how dire it may be to face perjury charges, defences are available to accused persons. Some of these defences are:
This defence would apply where the defendant believed the statement he gave was true, even if this belief was mistaken. Therefore, testifying falsely is not perjury if the "lie" is based on an honest mistake of fact.
The accused may also argue that the prosecutor set them up, knowing they would lie. This defence especially applies when the prosecutor did not really need the information they asked for.
If a person gives a false statement under oath because someone threatened them with severe injury or death, they cannot be guilty of perjury. However, such a defendant must show that they would have suffered future retaliation or immediate harm if they had not succumbed to the demand to perjure themselves.
A South Australian court cannot find a person guilty of perjury if their statement was true, even if they intended to mislead. All that matters is that they told the truth. It does not matter that they may have intentionally left out a material fact.
A significant element of perjury in South Australia is that the accused must have made the statement under oath. Failure to prove this factor nullifies the perjury charge because while lying is unethical, it is not an offence unless told under oath.
If the accused can show that they retracted the false statement during the proceeding, they may avoid a perjury conviction. However, they must have done the retraction before the information substantially impacted the proceeding,
As per the South Australian Criminal Law Consolidation Act, a person that the court convicts of perjury could spend seven years in jail as punishment. This rule makes it evident that the State of South Australia takes perjury quite seriously. As such, anyone facing perjury charges should contact an experienced South Australian Criminal defence lawyer immediately.
If an individual is found guilty of a perjury offence in SA, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their police clearance check.
Individuals can obtain a nationally coordinated criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.
Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) - https://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/lz?path=%2FC%2FA%2FCRIMINAL%20LAW%20CONSOLIDATION%20ACT%201935
Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) (Austlii References) - http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/clca1935262/
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