Interview with René Haumer: Are witnesses allowed to lie in court?
On June 4th, 2021, in response to current events, the daily newspaper OÖNachrichten published an article on the issue of perjury. For this article, our Partner René Haumer (White Collar Crime Team) provided information on the legal situation in court and in parliamentary committees of inquiry.
Anyone who makes a false statement as a witness in court or in the investigation proceedings of the criminal police can be sentenced with a jail term of up to three years in accordance with Section 288 of the Criminal Code. Likewise, respondents have to answer questions truthfully before a parliamentary committee of inquiry, provided there is no reason to remain silent.
The protective purpose of Section 288 of the Criminal Code is to enable the investigation of relevant facts in a proceeding. Anyone who deliberately makes false statements or omits something relevant is liable to prosecution if he or she willingly gave a false testimony. Speculations, opinions or errors are exempt from punishment.
However, those who have a right to silence have the right to refuse to answer questions; this applies in particular to people against whom criminal investigations are being conducted. On the other hand, people who – although they could refrain – give false testimony in order to avert the risk of criminal prosecution also commit perjury.
There is also no punishment for anyone who is in a “state of emergency” and therefore telling the untruth. This is the case if a witness did not know about his right to remain silent and therefore tells the untruth. In practice, however, this state of emergency only occurs very rarely.
In parliamentary committees of inquiry, where mostly people of public interest are interviewed, a refusal to give evidence would probably be interpreted by the public as an admission of guilt. According to the judicature of the Supreme Court of Justice, a false statement can also be excused if it is made with the intention of averting the risk of criminal prosecution.
7. June 2021
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