The Penalties for not Telling the Truth in Court

updated on
Information on this page was reviewed by a specialist defence lawyer before being published. Click to read more.
Oath by hand

Not telling the truth in court can lead to criminal charges, which carry harsh penalties.

If you are a defendant in a criminal case, you can get into a lot of trouble for lying in court.

If you are a witness, you will be asked to swear an oath or make an affirmation that you will tell the truth before you give your testimony.

If you are discovered to not be telling the truth as a witness, you may face imprisonment or other severe penalties.

Why would a witness lie in court?

If the defendant to a criminal case is a close friend or family member, you may naturally want to protect them.

If you have information which could harm their defence and make it more likely they will be found guilty, you may be tempted to conceal the information, either by not mentioning it or by giving false or misleading information instead.

If you are found to be falsifying information to protect a defendant, you may be charged with perjury, and face your own criminal proceedings as a result.

In some cases, witnesses may avoid telling the truth in court for fear of repercussions.

If you have been threatened or intimidated into giving certain false evidence, or concealing the real evidence, it is important that you speak to police as soon as you can.

Asking someone to lie in court is a criminal offence, and the person who has asked or pressured you into providing false evidence can potentially be charged with perverting the course of justice, an indictable offence that carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.

What penalties do witnesses face if found to be lying in court?

Perjury is when someone makes a false statement under oath in connection with a legal proceeding.

To qualify as perjury, this statement has to concern a matter that is material to the case.

Perjury carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Even if the legal matter does not end up continuing to judicial proceedings, you can still be charged with perjury if you have knowingly lied directly under oath about something in relation to the case.

Perverting the course of justice carries a harsher penalty than perjury (up to 14 years imprisonment) and can include any act which is intended to deliberately mislead or alter the course of justice.

This includes, but it not limited to, disposing or tampering with evidence and threatening and intimidating witnesses, jurors and judges or magistrates.

What are the defences to perjury charges?

It is important to speak to a criminal lawyer if you have been charged with perjury, as they will be able to advise you as to the best way to defend yourself.

As a witness, it can help strengthen your defence if you were pressured or intimidated into lying to the court by the defendant or their associates.

Explaining any other extenuating circumstances can also be crucial to avoiding the maximum penalty.

If you believe you had a good reason for not telling the truth in court, or if the false evidence you provided was the result of a genuine mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead the court, you may be able to have your penalty reduced or the charges withdrawn.

Last updated on
Going to Court? (02) 9261 8881
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Receive all of our articles weekly

Your Opinion Matters