Giving False vs. Wrong Evidence: What’s the Difference?

Last updated on August 14, 2023

Witness pointing at accused person in court

The case of Karl Liew Kai Lung has shed light on the dire consequences of giving false evidence in court. Karl Liew was sentenced to 2 weeks’ jail for lying to a judge in a case involving theft allegations against his family’s domestic helper, Parti Liyani.

This article will discuss:

Witness’ Duties When Giving Evidence in Court 

When giving evidence before a court, a witness has certain duties and responsibilities to ensure that the legal process is fair, accurate, and just. Witnesses are typically required to take an oath or make an affirmation before testifying in court. This solemnly binds them to fulfil their most fundamental duty to the court, which is, to tell the truth.

By taking the oath, witnesses acknowledge the importance of honesty and the potential legal consequences of lying under oath (perjury). Witnesses are therefore legally obliged to provide truthful and accurate information to the best of their knowledge and recollection.

Importance of Giving Accurate and Reliable Evidence

The giving of evidence plays a crucial role in distinguishing between the innocent and the guilty. Accurate and reliable evidence helps to ensure that the guilty are held accountable for their actions, while protecting the innocent from false accusations or wrongful convictions.

For instance, a veteran athletic coach faced 21 months’ imprisonment for allegedly molesting an athlete, but the High Court found “serious doubts” in the testimony of the sole witness in the case and overturned his conviction. The witness’ testimony contained inconsistencies and lacked specific details of the incident in question. 

False Evidence vs. Wrong Evidence 

False evidence refers to deliberately fabricated or altered evidence that is presented with the intent to deceive the court or influence the outcome of a case. It involves intentionally creating or manipulating evidence to mislead the court or the opposing party. False evidence can take various forms, such as:

  • Forged documents
  • Manipulated or fabricated photographs
  • Fabricated witness statements
  • Misleading expert opinions

For example, in response to a charge of littering a cigarette butt in a public place, the accused presented photos of him throwing the cigarette butt into a makeshift container as defence exhibits during trial. He claimed they were taken by CCTV cameras near the location of the incident and on the day of the incident. However, these photos turned out to be false evidence and the accused was sentenced to 6 weeks’ imprisonment. He had fabricated the photos by having another person take those photos of him with a mobile phone after he was caught littering.  

In the case of Karl Liew, he testified that some articles of clothing (i.e., a cream polo T-shirt and red blouse) belonged to him, even though he knew that this was false. Ms. Parti’s defence lawyer asked Karl Liew if he remembered when he had purchased the T-shirt and the blouse and when he wore them. Karl Liew replied that he did not. This false testimony was given to intentionally mislead the court.  

On the other hand, wrong evidence refers to evidence that is incorrect, inaccurate, or mistaken, but not intentionally fabricated or altered so as to mislead the court. It may arise due to factors such as:

  • Errors;
  • Misunderstandings;
  • Faulty memory;
  • Misinterpretation; and
  • Other unintentional factors.

Situations That Give Rise to Wrong Evidence

Wrong evidence is typically considered a matter of credibility, reliability, or weight rather than a deliberate act of deception. The following are a few ways in which wrong evidence may be given by a witness and how the court may disregard such testimony:

Witness not observing the incident correctly 

Quite often in fast-paced situations where things happen in a blink of an eye, witnesses may not be able to observe the incident correctly. For example, an eyewitness in a road traffic accident might have in good faith believed that the traffic light at the time of the accident was green when it was in fact red. Their evidence would be wrong, and the court may disregard the witness’s testimony if there is some doubt as to the accuracy of the evidence or the witness’s credibility.

Witness not able to accurately remember the incident 

Trials seldom take place soon after the incident in question. At times, the witness may no longer be able to accurately remember the incident and their testimony in court may not be accurate. For example, in cases where a witness has to confirm the identity of a suspect,  recollection of the suspect committing a crime may not be as accurate two years after the original identification. This may raise doubts as to whether the suspect was indeed the person identified at the crime scene.

Witness not able to articulate or communicate clearly in court

In other cases, there may be gaps in communication or matters lost in translation. At times when testimony is translated from another language into English, nuances are lost or mistranslations can occur. The witness, in this case, is giving evidence in good faith but the judge may disregard such testimony if it is unclear, or look towards other sources of evidence such as objective written documents or video footage (if available) for corroboration.

Penalties For Giving False Evidence in Court 

When a witness gives false evidence, he or she may be guilty of an offence if the witness knowingly or intentionally gives false evidence. This may amount to a perversion of justice, as illustrated in Karl Liew’s case.

If the conduct in question falls under Chapter 11 of the Penal Code (offences for false evidence and offences against public justice), the offender may face imprisonment if convicted. For example, the punishment for lying or knowingly providing false information, despite being legally bound by oath to state the truth, is imprisonment for up to 7 years and a fine.

This article provides a detailed overview of the penalties for furnishing false information to authorities.  

Witnesses play a vital role in helping the court reach a fair and just decision based on accurate information. Their testimony contributes to the search for truth and the administration of justice.

When evidence is given in good faith but is incorrect or inaccurate due to errors, misunderstandings, faulty memory, or other unintentional factors, the courts may be more understanding of this. However, if false evidence is given knowingly with an intent to deceive or mislead the courts, then the law is less tolerant. 

Do approach a criminal lawyer if you require guidance on the distinctions above and how best to prepare to give evidence in judicial proceedings if you have been called as a witness.

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