Perjury is the criminal offence of deliberately telling untruths in judicial proceedings. The false statement must be significant to the case rather than irrelevant.

When might perjury take place?

In criminal trials, witnesses for the defence might commit perjury to avoid a guilty verdict. Prosecution witnesses with a grudge against the defendant might lie so that they are found guilty. In civil proceedings, either of the parties might tell untruths to increase their chance of winning the case. Supposedly neutral witnesses who have been bribed by or manipulated may commit perjury. As well as oral statements, perjury can include written documents submitted by witnesses like affidavits.

What are the penalties?

Courts take perjury extremely seriously as it undermines the basis of the justice system. As such, it carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison under the Perjury Act 1911. In deciding sentences, courts will consider how many acts of perjury have been committed and their persistence, the level of premeditation, the impact of the false statement on proceedings and whether several people were involved.

It makes no difference whether the judicial proceedings in question were of a civil or criminal nature. Aiding, abetting and inciting perjury is also a criminal offence punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The offence of perverting the course of justice is distinct to perjury as it can involve dishonest manipulations of the justice system that occur outside of judicial proceedings. In the recent prosecution of the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, for example,  the charge was perverting the course of justice as his fraudulent attempt avoid liability for a speeding offence did not take place in the context of judicial proceedings.

If you fear being accused of perjury it is vital to contact a solicitor to seek confidential advice as soon as possible.

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