Under South African law, the crime of perjury is considered a common law crime which means that it is not technically regulated by the legislature but instead, the crime is determined by and evolved in the courts. However, what makes perjury somewhat unique is that it can be found in statutes as the crime of making conflicting statements as mentioned in Contravention of Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Act 56 of 1955.
So what is perjury? Well, the accepted definition is that perjury occurs when a person who has taken the oath or made an affirmation before, or if someone who has been admonished by someone who is competent to administer the accepted oath, admonition or affirmation, makes a false statement during the course of a judicial proceeding.
Sounds like a lot of technical jargon, but when it comes to down to it, it is simply someone lying to courts or police when they have sworn to tell the truth. This can be done in writing or verbally, such as a person lying on the stand when being questioned in a criminal trial. Another example would be a person who lies in their affidavit – this is a written statement that is witnessed at a police station and it is illegal to make false statements here. So before you think of pranking someone by laying a false charge against them, think again, because the police might come knocking on your door.
Omission can also lead to a charge of perjury, as withholding pertinent information also defeats the ends of justice. For example, if a witness chooses not to divulge a pertinent piece of information that could determine the outcome of a trial.
This, of course, does not include false statements made with honest intention. For example, if a witness at the time of testifying believed their own testimony but it turned out to be untrue, they did not lie and did not commit perjury. There must be intent to deceive the judicial process.
Penalties for the crime of perjury can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years, a hefty fine or probation, and it is therefore never advised to make any false statements that hinder any judicial proceedings since this is a very serious offence.
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