May 28 2021

Dealing with lies

Ascertaining the truth of what happened and what is said by witnesses is a key part of a criminal trial where the events are disputed.

Disputes can be about what happened, who did what, whether a person knew something at a certain time, even whether somebody said or didn’t say something. So, how do we decide whether a disagreement is important? If the court concludes that a defendant is or has told a lie then how should the court deal with that, especially if the lie doesn’t render their defence completely untenable?

Whether a disagreement between the prosecution and defence is relevant or not will depend to a great extent on the individual case and what is happening within it. In a drink driving case where the defendant is saying he drank alcohol after ceasing to drive, a disagreement about whether the empty beer bottles were found on the floor or on the passenger seat of the car will probably be irrelevant, but if the police say they found the bottles in the boot in bags as if ready to be taken to the bottle bank then it might be relevant. Relevancy is important when it comes to deciding how to treat any lies as we’ll see in a moment.

One of the most common cases that involve a determination of, what the prosecution at least call, lies is cases where a defendant says he or she drank alcohol after they had finished driving. During the breath test procedure, the police officer will ask whether you have used or consumed any alcohol since the time of the alleged offence. If the defendant says “no” to the police officer but then later tells the court that she did drink something after she stopped driving the court will have to determine which of the two conflicting statements given by the defendant is true. The prosecution will always ask the court to conclude that the denial given to the police was the truth and the account given to the court is a lie made up to avoid conviction. The defence will usually say something along the lines of the defendant was in an unusual, unfamiliar, and very stressful situation and they became confused or missed the question or didn’t understand its significance, etc.

The court will need to ask itself first whether a lie has been told at all. Clearly, if you have two conflicting statements from the same person you can be sure that only one of them can be true, but it doesn’t follow that one must be a lie and the other the truth. They could, of course, both be lies or neither might be. So, the court will need to be sure that one or other statement is a deliberate untruth, i.e. the defendant was lying rather than confused or simply making a mistake. If an untruth arises from an error or confusion it will not be a lie and so should not be counted against the defendant in the same way a lie might be.

Let’s assume that the court concludes it was told a lie, what should it do with that information? The answer to that really depends what the lie was about. If the lie is at the heart of the defence case and so critical to it that the defence case can not possibly true then the court’s decision is easy: convict. But, often a lie will be less directly connected to the defence and will still leave room for the defence to be true despite the lie.

The final question for the court to consider is why the lie was told. A lie told by a defendant to avoid conviction or cast blame on another person might be far more telling of guilt than a lie told through fear, to avoid hurting somebody else, or perhaps even to cover up for some personal, but non-criminal, indiscretion.

Motoring law offences are particularly susceptible to conflicting statements being made because the prosecution case will often rely on statements made to police officers before any legal advice is taken. This can result in some people not appreciating the significance of their words or even that those words can be used against them in future so it is very important that you have a solicitor who is actively looking for places where a prosecutor will say “that was a lie” and will take steps to counter the prosecution.

If you have been accused of a motoring offence and would like to speak to an expert solicitor then call us today on 020 8242 4440 or send us a message via our contact page.