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Law of Perjury: A Global Perspective

Article by Jagatjeet Singh

Introduction

Perjury, “an act or an instance of a person’s deliberately making materially false or misleading statements while under oath”[1], though not defined under Indian statutes is a crime referred to as ‘False evidence’. The offence of False evidence is dealt in Chapter XI of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as ‘IPC’). The said Chapter is titled ‘False Evidence and Offences Against Public Justice’. This article aims to explore the law and procedure the offence of Perjury both in India and comparable common law jurisdictions, in light of conflicting judicial pronouncements.

Offence of Perjury in India

Section 191[2] of Chapter XI of IPC deals with the offence of giving false evidence which is when a person who is under oath or express provisions of law required to state the truth, makes a false statement or any statement that the said person does not believe to be true is known as giving false evidence. The punishment for giving such false evidence before a judicial proceeding is up to 7 (seven) years and a fine as enumerated in Section 193[3] of IPC. The said offence is non-cognizable, meaning thereby that the said offence can neither be investigated upon nor an FIR registered by the police without express permission or direction from the court.

The procedure for registering and investigating the offence of Perjury is enumerated in Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as “CrPC”) and dealt in detail by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in case title ‘Pritish Vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors.’[4]. At the first instance any party or person may move an Application under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 before the judicial forum where such perjury has been committed. The said judicial forum then must conduct a preliminary enquiry onto the prima facie existence of perjury without serving upon or calling the alleged accused. The accused has no legal right to be heard at this stage. The apex court has in the case titled Pritish (Supra) held that the Application under Section 340 of CrPC is comparable to an Application under Section 154 of CrPC before the police for registration of an FIR wherein the accused until an FIR is registered has no legal right to be heard.

The concerned judicial forum must on the documents before it decide the existence of perjury. In case the judicial forum decides the existence of perjury, the judicial forum must then make a complaint in writing under Section 340 of CrPC to the concerned Magistrate of first class. The said Magistrate shall receive the said Complaint under Section 343 of CrPC and act upon it under Sections 238 to 240 of CrPC. The Magistrate shall examine the complaint, hear the accused and then make its judicial mind as to if the allegations are groundless or with ground. The Magistrate may either discharge or charge the accused with the offence of perjury based upon the complaint, documents and its examination of the accused.

United Kingdom

Unlike in India, the United Kingdom, a fellow common law system, has a separate criminal statute that deals with the offence of Perjury. The Perjury Act of 1911 was enacted on 29.06.1911 to consolidate and simplify Perjury and kindred offences. The offence of Perjury is defined as when ‘any person lawfully sworn as a witness wilfully makes a statement material in that proceeding, which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, he shall be guilty of perjury’. The said definition finds similarity to the one in the Indian Penal Code which does not come as a surprise as the Indian Penal Code of 1860 is a British era law. The offence of Perjury in the United Kingdom is also punishable with imprisonment of 7 (seven years).

United States of America

The United States of America, another common law jurisdiction, has a dual legal structure. Federal statutes govern the entire country along with state statutes which govern a particular. Thus, the laws of perjury differ from state to state, however the federal statutes of Perjury are the same throughout the country. Several federal statutes criminalize perjury and related offences however the most common statutes are 18 U.S.C. Sections 1001, 1621 and 1623. Section 1621 is the traditional perjury statute that prosecutes perjury committed before the legislative, administrative or judicial bodies. Section 1623, enacted in 1970, specifically deals with false statements before Federal Courts and grand juries. The Supreme Court of USA in case titled ‘Hubbard v. United States’[5] held that Sections 1621 and 1623 can apply to and penalize false statements made before the judiciary. The Supreme Court also held that the False Statement Statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 was inapplicable to false statements made before the judiciary. However, the United States Congress in 1996 amended the 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 restoring the statute’s ability to prosecute false statements made to both the legislative and the judicial branches of the government.

Future of Offence of Perjury in India

The Indian legislative in one of the landmark events since the India’s Independence in 1947 has brought forward three bills to replace the archaic and aging British era laws, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The new bills do not have a law of perjury however the same is still characterized under the Chapter False Evidence and other Offences against the Public Justice, the sections are identical to the ones in the Indian Penal Code.

The offence of Perjury is a commonplace in the Indian judicial system. Even though most pleading before a judicial forum mandates an affidavit[6] in support of such a pleading, the affidavits are taken lightly by the litigant and the judicial system. The Indian Judiciary has over the years voices its concern to police the offence of perjury citing the tremendous volume of pendency and the inability of the legal system to handle the said offence.

However, the Indian judiciary in the recent times, have come heavy on the offence of Perjury citing it a serious criminal offence and one which shall invite strict adverse action[7]. A division bench of the High Court of Meghalaya headed by the Chief Justice while hearing an appeal of conviction made the observation that ‘Unless Indian judges get serious with litigants and witnesses, the present trend of false affidavits being filed, and false evidence being given may one day render the judiciary irrelevant’[8].

It is thus imperative that the offence of Perjury, which may not seem as the most heinous crime, shall be prosecuted and enforced as to protect the sanctity of the judicial system and to ensure that any statement made by a person under oath is always true and a person does not get away with making false statements to mislead the judiciary.

[1] Black Law Dictionary
[2] Whoever, being legally bound by an oath or by an express provision of law to state the truth or being bound by law to make a declaration upon any subject, makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows or believes to be false or does not believe to be true, is said to give false evidence.
[3] Whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine;
[4] (2002) 1 SCC 253
[5] 115 S.Ct. 1754 & n,15 (1995)
[6] An affidavit is also a sworn statement made to a particular effect and making false declaration on an affidavit also constitutes the offence of Perjury under Section 191 and 193 of IPC
[7] M/s Gokaldas Paper Products v. M/s Lilliput Kidswear Ltd. & Anr. 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 314
[8] King Victor Ch. Marak vs. State of Meghalaya Crl. A. No. 30 of 2022
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