The offence of perjury finds its place in law by virtue of Section 191 to Section 203 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ('IPC'). Unlike many other countries, the offence of perjury is muted on account of Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ("Cr.P.C").
Section 195(1)(b)(i) of the Cr.P.C. restricts any court to take cognizance of an offence of perjury unless the same is by way of a complaint in writing by the court before which the offence is committed or by a superior court.
Any party, by way of an application made under Section 340 of the Cr.P.C., may bring to the court' s notice the commission of the offence of perjury before it. The court, however, must satisfy itself that it will be expedient in the interest of justice that an inquiry should be made into the offence. Upon such satisfaction, the court may record a finding to that effect, make a complaint in writing and forward it to the jurisdictional magistrate to conduct the trial in accordance with law.
It is important to note that Section 193 of the IPC prescribes imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years and a fine as the punishment for the offence of perjury.
To succeed in an application under Section 340 of the Cr.P.C., one must keep in mind that the offence of perjury must be committed by a person who is:
a. Legally bound by an oath or by law to state the truth or make a declaration;
b. Makes a false statement; and
c. Knows or believes it to be false or does not believe it to be true.
Recently, the Bombay High Court in Tarun Keshrichand Shah vs. Kishore Engineering Company in Criminal Appeal No. 153 of 2019, while directing the trial court to initiate criminal prosecution for the offence of perjury,came down on a full-time practicing chartered accountant, who with complete knowledge and despite being aware about legal niceties appeared to have knowingly made a statement on oath that was false and with a dishonest intention.
The question as to whether the full-time practicing chartered accountant knowingly and intentionally swore false affidavits that tantamounted to giving or fabricating false evidence was answered in the affirmative and accordingly, the Court held that there was a prima facie case of deliberate falsehood on a matter of substance and that there was an adequate foundation for framing a charge. The Court found that it was expedient in the interest of justice that there should be a complaint.
A copy of the judgment is available here.
In recent years, other courts too have come down heavily on litigants who have lied under oath. Here are some interesting observations by them:
1. The Supreme Court of India in Dalip Singh vs. State Of U.P. & Ors observed
'For many centuries, Indian society cherished two basic values of life i.e., `Satya' (truth) and `Ahimsa' (non-violence). Mahavir, Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi guided the people to ingrain these values in their daily life. Truth constituted an integral part of justice delivery system. Which was in vogue in pre-independence era. And the people used to feel proud to tell truth in the courts irrespective of the consequences. However, post-independence period has seen drastic changes in our value system.
The materialism has over-shadowed the old ethos. And the quest for personal gain has become so intense. That those involved in litigation do not hesitate to take shelter of falsehood, misrepresentation and suppression of facts in the court proceedings. In last 40 years, a new creed of litigants has cropped up. Those who belong to this creed do not have any respect for truth. They shamelessly resort to falsehood and unethical means for achieving their goals. In order to meet the challenge posed by this new creed of litigants, the courts have, from time to time, evolved new rules. And it is now well established that a litigant, who attempts to pollute the stream of justice or who touches the pure fountain of justice with tainted hands, is not entitled to any relief, interim or final.'
2. In Dhananjay Sharma vs. State Of Haryana And Ors, the Supreme Court noted
'any conduct which has the tendency to interfere with the administration of justice or the due course of judicial proceedings amounts to the commission of criminal contempt. Additionally, the swearing of false affidavits in judicial proceedings not only has the tendency of causing obstruction in the due course of judicial proceedings. But has also the tendency to impede, obstruct and interfere with the administration of justice. The filing of false affidavits in judicial proceedings in any court of law exposes the intention of the concerned party. In perverting the course of justice. The due process of law cannot be permitted to be slighted. Nor the majesty of law be made a mockery by such acts or conduct on the part of the parties to the litigation. Or even while appearing as witnesses.
Anyone who makes an attempt to impede or undermine or obstruct the free flow of the unsoiled stream of justice by resorting to the filing of false evidence, commits criminal contempt of the court and renders himself liable to be dealt with in accordance with the Act.
Filing of false affidavits or making false statement on oath in Courts aims at striking a blow at the Rule of Law. And no court can ignore such conduct which has the tendency to shake public confidence in the judicial institutions. Because the very structure of an ordered life is put at stake. It would be a great public disaster if the fountain of justice is allowed to be poisoned by anyone resorting to filing of false affidavits. Or giving of false statements and fabricating false evidence in a court of law. The stream of justice has to be kept clear and pure. And anyone soiling its purity must be dealt with sternly. So that the message perculates loud and clear. That no one can be permitted to undermine the dignity of the court. Or interfere with the due course of judicial proceedings or the administration of justice.'
3. The Supreme Court of India has noted why perjury is not taken seriously. In Swaran Singh vs. State of Punjab, it observed that
' …Perjury has also become a way of life in the law courts. A trial Judge knows that the witness is telling a lie and is going back on his previous statement. Yet he does not wish to punish him or even file a complaint against him. He himself has to sign the complaint. This deters him from filing the complaint…'
4. The Bombay High Court too noted the menace of perjury being committed rampantly in courts. Judgment in the case of Vijay Enterprises vs Gopinath MahadeKoli and Ors.,in which it held
'Now the time has come when the litigants are utilizing the fabricated documents rampantly. Now the time has also come where people are making statements on oath and in court proceedings which are blatantly false to their own knowledge. Now a days parties are using false documents with a view to achieve orders which they desire to obtain. It is needless to state that justice delivery system has to be pure. And should be such that the persons who are approaching the Courts and filing the proceedings must be afraid of using fabricated documents. And also of making false statements on oath.
We are a Court of Law sitting here to ascertain the truth and give justice in accordance with the law. To establish truth. And not to be misled by the advocates and the parties in the various directions. So as to make it almost impossible to give effective and truthful justice to the litigants at large. And, in my opinion keeping in mind the aforesaid position it is high time. High time that where the people have blatantly used the fabricated document for the purpose of achieving the desired result even by misleading the Court and/or by making false statement and by using fabricated documents cannot escape the penalties.'
5. The Delhi high Court in Arun Dhawan & Anr vs. Lokesh Dhawan laid down that
'making of false averment in the pleading pollutes the stream of justice. It is an attempt at inviting the Court into passing a wrong judgment. And that is why it must be treated as an offence. There is nothing in law to prevent a person from being proceeded for contempt where a verification is specific and deliberately false.'
It may also interest you to know that lying under oath may also invite provisions of criminal contempt. This would make contemners liable to strict punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.