By Jimmy Singh and Tayla Regan
What if a neighbour or ex-partner makes very serious, untruthful claims about you to the police?
What if he or she has done this with a sinister ulterior motive, resulting in a criminal charge or an AVO against you?
People have made false accusations in the past for various reasons- to gain a tactical advantage in family court proceedings, out of sheer anger in the heat of the moment, or revenge.
Extent of Unnecessary Resources Caused by False Accusations
Significant police resources are used to then investigate claims that are made to police by people.
A false report to police can, and often does, initiate an investigation against the accused by police.
When those reported criminal claims turn out to then be falsely made, those resources used to investigate it go to waste- undermining the criminal justice system.
This can then result in the accused facing serious criminal charges which attract penalties of imprisonment if found guilty. This will likely initiate a long drawn-out court proceeding which can take years.
Having to then spend money and time on defending a false claim is highly stressful and expensive for the court and innocent person involved. It can also damage your reputation amongst family, friends and work colleagues- which again, undermines the justice system and sense of justice.
A former Attorney-General, by the name of Hon John Dowd had this to say about it: “It is fundamentally important that confidence is maintained in our system of justice, and to this end must be protected from attack. Those who interfere with the course of justice must be subject to severe penalties.”
For those reasons, the law treats false accusation cases very seriously with very heavy penalties.
Can You be Charged for Making False Accusations?
It is a criminal offence attracting a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years if you:
- Makes a false accusation, and
- Where you intended that the accusation result in an investigation of an offence; and
- You know that the person accused to be innocent.
This is reflected in section 314 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
Specific to AVO cases, it is a criminal offence attracting penalty of up to 1 year imprisonment and/or a fine of $1,100 if you:
- Make a statement; and
- You made that statement knowing it to be false or misleading; and
- That statement you made was made to a Magistrate or Registrar of the court for the purposes of making an application for an AVO.
This is reflected in section 49A Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW).
These types of matters will usually be heard and finalised in the Local Court.
False Accusations in AVO Proceedings
An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is an order that is taken out where there is a reason to fear violence or harassment from a person.
An APVO may be taken out against a person who you do not have a personal relationship with, such as a neighbour, an acquaintance, boss or co-worker.
When making a false APVO application, a person may provide false statements to the police about you. This will be in the form of a complaint expressing that he/she is fearful of you, and believe that you will be violent towards them.
Such complaints can be very detrimental to your character, and can result in the police serving you with an order requiring you to attend Court. You will then be required to go through court proceedings. These types of circumstances can be very embarrassing for a person, especially where the allegations are untrue.
False Accusations in Family Law Proceedings
A lot of the time, false allegations are made against innocent people during the process of family court proceedings.
Retired Judge, Justice David Collier, who served on the Parramatta Family Court bench for 14 years expressed his concerns about the frequent use of false allegations against another parent in an attempt to discredit the other.
An article by the Sydney Morning Herald highlights the retired Judge’s remarks on the ‘grey area’ of false accusations, and declared that ‘once an allegation has been made, it is impossible to ignore.’
It is the mere fact that they cannot be ignored due to the possibility that such allegations may actually be true.
He commented that the worst occasions were the direct false allegations of abuse against former partners.
Justice David Collier discusses that, unfortunately, the accusations are very common during family law proceedings. He says that ‘when you have heard the evidence, you realise that this is a person who’s so determined to win that he or she will say anything.’
How Common are False Reports?
Often, it’s difficult to prove that a person willingly made a claim, knowing it is untruthful. However, where it can be proved, harsh consequences can result.
A woman 7 months pregnant was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. She was found guilty of reporting a false sexual assault claim
The UK, in 2012/2013 reported 3,692 prosecutions for rape. Out of these 2,333 were actually found guilty and convicted, says The Guardian. In fact, a US professor said that the UK’s stance on false claims or accusations is more aggressive than in other countries such as Australia, Canada and America.
While false reporting occurs, it doesn’t appear to occur as often as one may think. Even official statistics on this can, and have been inflated by other reasons, where for example, police sometimes record a case as being “unfounded” where they are unable to collect reliable evidence to be in admissible in court. These kinds of cases are seen to have been conflated with false allegations.
On the other hand, a Former Family Court Judge, Justice Collier is reported stating that there is an increasing number of mothers falsely reporting claims of abuse, in an effort to prevent the fathers of their children from seeing their children.