If you are a witness in a court proceeding you will be asked to take an oath or affirmation to tell the truth. But what happens if you lie in the witness box?

The following outlines your obligations as a witness to tell the truth in a court proceeding in Western Australia as well as the potential offence of perjury which could be brought if you were to lie to the court. It will further discuss potential criminal penalties if found guilty of perjury and any defences available.

The following information was provided by an experienced criminal lawyer who practises criminal defence law in the state of Western Australia.

Being sworn in as a Witness

Before stepping into the witness box, you’ll be required to verbally commit to telling the truth in your testimony to the court.

There are two options for this commitment: an “oath,” which involves invoking God, and an “affirmation,” which is a non-religious alternative.

If you choose to take an oath, you’ll hold a Bible or another religious text and declare:

“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

If you opt for an affirmation, you’ll state:

“I solemnly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

This act isn’t merely symbolic, violating this oath or affirmation by failing to tell the truth could constitute the offence of perjury.

The offence of perjury in Western Australia

The offence of perjury is outlined under section 124 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA), which states that:

Any person who, in any judicial proceeding, or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding, knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question then depending in that proceeding, or intended to be raised in that proceeding, is guilty of a crime which is called perjury.

For the offence of perjury, it is immaterial whether the false testimony is given orally or in writing, or if there were procedural issues associated with the witness giving evidence.

A separate offence exists under section 127 of the WA Criminal Code for giving false evidence before a Royal Commission as opposed to a judicial proceeding.

Penalties for committing perjury

The criminal penalties for perjury are outlined under section 125 of the WA Criminal Code. Any person who commits perjury is liable to a term of imprisonment of 14 years.

However, if the offender commits the crime in order to procure the conviction of another person for a crime punishable with imprisonment for life, they are liable to imprisonment for life.

In order to prove a charge of perjury the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. That the accused made a false testimony (oral or written) under oath or affirmation;
  2. The testimony was made in any judicial proceeding or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding;
  3. The testimony concerns any matter which is material to the proceeding, and;
  4. The accused gave the testimony knowing it to be false.

Defences for the offence of perjury

Defences that are commonly raised to a charge of perjury include a situation where the accused honestly believed the testimony to be true rather than false. In appropriate circumstances the trial judge should give a clear direction to the jury on the difference between honest mistake and deliberate falsehood.; the latter being the essential element of the offence of perjury: MacKenzie v R (1996) 190 CLR 348.

Another possible defence that may be raised is where the accused did not understand the question posed.

The charge or perjury may also be defended in circumstances where the testimony given was not actually connected or ‘material’ to a judicial proceeding. Determination of whether allegedly perjured evidence is material is an issue for the trial judge and not the jury.

Why hire a Criminal Lawyer to defend a perjury charge?

Hiring a criminal lawyer to defend a perjury charge is essential for several reasons.

Criminal lawyers have specialized knowledge and experience in handling cases involving criminal charges, including perjury. They understand the intricacies of the law and can provide a strong defense strategy.

Criminal cases involve complex legal procedures and paperwork, which a criminal lawyer can efficiently navigate, ensuring that all documents are filed correctly and deadlines are met. Furthermore, a criminal lawyer can gather evidence, interview witnesses, and identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case to build a robust defense.

They will also represent you in court, presenting your case to the judge and jury, and their experience in courtroom proceedings can significantly impact the outcome of your case.

Importantly, a criminal lawyer ensures that your rights are protected throughout the legal process, preventing any violations of your legal rights and advocating on your behalf.

If you are convicted of perjury, a criminal lawyer can argue for reduced penalties, such as lower fines or a shorter sentence, by presenting mitigating factors to the court.

Your lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecution for a plea bargain, potentially reducing the charges or penalties you face.

Have you been charged with perjury?

If you have been charged with the offence of perjury, you should discuss any potential defences with a criminal law attorney who is qualified to practice law in your state and/or country.