A false accusation is a groundless allegation of wrongdoing levelled against another person or persons which is not supported by evidence or facts. The Australian legal system deems false accusations to be a serious offence that can result in jail time and significant financial punishment. Due to the nature of the legal system and its fundamental reliance on honesty, integrity and the pursuit of truth, it is expected that all accusations made to police and a court of law are, to the best of the accuser’s knowledge, truthful and accurate.
False Accusation Legislation and Laws
If someone is found to have made false accusations, the law imposes harsh penalties. Section 314 of the Crimes Act 1900 No 40 states that a person who makes an accusation intending another person to be investigated for an offence can face up to seven years imprisonment.
It is also an offence to give false information, applications and documents, according to The NSW Crimes Act 1900, No 40 Part 5A.
Under section 307A, a person is guilty of an offence if:
- They make an application (statement) which is knowingly false or misleading, or make the statement recklessly and without sufficient cause.
- They omit information which makes the statement misleading.
- The statement is made to a public authority, a person performing a duty or function under law of the State.
Section 307B refers to the proliferation of false information, rather than applications, specifically. In this subsection, a person is guilty of a crime if:
- A person gives information to another person which is false, misleading, or omits information which makes the statement misleading.
- The statement is made to a public authority, a person performing a duty or function under law of the State.
Finally, section 307C deals with the crime of providing false or misleading documents. Again, this is similar to the other two charges, however, it relates specifically to false documentation such as a falsified work reference, false AVO claims or misleading financial documents. In this case, a person may be considered guilty of a crime if:
- They produce a document which is knowingly false or misleading, or make the statement recklessly and without sufficient cause.
- The document is produced in compliance with a public authority or a person performing a duty or function under law of the State.
For all three sections, the maximum penalty can be imposed for attempting to commit the offence, being an accessory, aiding or abetting, conspiring to commit, or inciting the offence.
Section 547B of the Crimes Act 1900 relates to the crime of public mischief. This crime may be prosecuted if an individual knowingly makes false representations that an event has occurred or will occur, if that event would call for the investigation of a police officer. This offence carries maximum penalties of 12 months imprisonment or a fine of 50 penalty units ($5,500).
You may be charged with this offence if you make a false representation to another person, and that person is reasonably required to communicate this representation to a police officer, and they do so.
What is Defined as a False Accusation?
A false accusation is a wilful claim or allegation about another person which is intentionally untrue, dishonest or misleading. False accusations can be wielded privately through false police statements or AVOs, or they can be public, such as in cases involving defamation, libel or slander. The key factor in false accusations is that the allegations are groundless, unsupported by facts and that it was an accusation intended to be misleading and harm the other person.
What Must Be Proven
A false accusation is one of many serious criminal charges with stringent punishments. In a false accusation case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:
- Made a false accusation.
- Did so with the intention for the person to be investigated.
- Did so with the knowledge that the accusations were false, and that the person was innocent of the crime alleged against them.
Possible Defences to False Accusation Charges
You did not make the statement
The most straightforward defence in this case is that you did not in fact make the accusation, allegation or statement. This is the primary point the prosecution must prove and without it, there is no case. If there is no record or evidence of your accusation, and it was not given to a lawful authority or agent, the charge is defensible.
There is a defence to false accusation charges, because making a false accusation alone is not always a crime, particularly if there is no intent. The prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused made a false accusation or statement, or provided a false document purposefully and with wilful intent.
You believed it was truthful
To be held criminally responsible for making false accusations, it must be proven that you did so with intent and knowing that the information was not true. If you did in fact believe that the accusation you were making was correct, and felt that you were acting in accordance with the law, this is a legitimate defence to the charge. An example would be for a similar offence of providing a false document, which could happen if you were asked to provide a character reference and included information that you believed was true but was in fact false. In this case, it is defensible.
Confabulation is a memory error that can lead an individual to make false allegations, false statements or even false confessions due to gaps or blanks in their recollections. While memory is a contentious issue in trial law, confabulation and memory error are legitimate psychological phenomenons that can be used to explain the distribution of misinformation. Prosecutors can not prove that the false accusation was made with intent to deceive if it was likely due to false memories or potential confabulation.
If you committed a false accusation against an innocent person, and there is proof that would convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt, then you can plead guilty. Pleading guilty is sometimes the best approach, particularly if the evidence is not in your favour. If this is your first offence or it is out of character, the judge or the magistrate may look upon this plea with leniency.
False Accusation Penalties
Section 314 of the Crimes Act 1900 No 40 states that a person who makes an accusation intending another person to be investigated for an offence can face up to seven years imprisonment.
Giving false or misleading information is a less serious offence but can still be heavily punished under NSW legislation. Under the NSW Crimes Act No 40, Part 5A, providing false or misleading information, documents or applications carries a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment, or a fine of 200 penalty units, or both.
Possible Examples of False Accusation
There are many reasons why someone might lodge a false accusation at another person. Some predominant examples are for financial gain or out of revenge. People can make false accusations in order to ruin reputations, prevent their own embarrassment, or sometimes in order to protect the true perpetrator of a crime from punishment.
A relatively recent example of false accusations was a case in Sydney in 2019 in which a man was falsely accused of stalking and indecent assault of a young woman. When the charges were proven to be false, the woman was sentenced to nine months jail with a non-parole period of five months.
Other examples include false statements about common assault, drug possession, drink driving, false stalking, and situations where people lie to protect the real perpetrator.
A potentially similar, but separate offence, is perjury. As defined in Section 327 of the Crimes Act 1900, perjury is lying under oath as part of a judicial proceeding. It carries a maximum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment.
False accusation cases are classified as table one offences, and are therefore generally dealt with in local court and carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, 200 penalty units, or both. In some circumstances, the prosecution may choose to have the case heard in District Court. This is generally if it is a more serious offence or a more complex case.
Dealing With False Accusations at Work (NSW)
One area of our lives where false accusations can be especially damaging is the workplace. No matter how spurious allegations may seem at first glance, workplaces must take any accusations of wrongdoing extremely seriously.
Section 387 of the Fair Work Act lays out factors the Fair Work Commission must take into account when deciding if a dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. These include whether a person is given an opportunity to respond to reasons related to their conduct, and unreasonable refusals by employers to have a support person present to assist in discussions relating to the dismissal. These factors can become relevant in the case of false accusations at work.
If someone makes false accusations against you at work, your employer will likely begin a workplace investigation. When you are the subject of a workplace investigation, you are entitled to procedural fairness. If a workplace investigation is found to have procedural flaws, you may be found to have been wrongfully dismissed.
To ensure workplace investigations are fair, employers should:
- Provide clear information about the allegations made against you
- Give you a chance to think about the allegations and respond to them
- Follow internal policies
- Ensure the investigation is undertaken by an uninvolved and unbiased party
- Consider all information you and others give them with regard to the allegations
- Not take too long to come to a decision
- Provide 14 days’ notice, in writing, if they plan to look at your emails or monitor your Internet usage
For many workplace accusations or complaints, you may wish to seek legal advice before responding. If a false allegation in the workplace rises to the level of a criminal offence, you should seek legal advice immediately. This may include harassment or sexual assault allegations.
If you are terminated wrongfully or unfairly, you may be able to make an unfair dismissal claim, a general protections claim or a discrimination complaint. There are strict time limits for taking action – in some cases, just 21 days. Consult a lawyer to find the best course of action to take.
What to Do if You Have Been Falsely or Wrongly Accused of a Crime
Seek Legal Assistance
If you have been accused of a crime, the very first step is to seek legal advice. This should be done before you call or talk to anyone, speak to police or give any kind of statement. You have the right to hire a legal representative who can explain the charges laid against you before taking action.
As the accused, you will have an acute understanding of what actually happened, what evidence there is on either side, and how you can best prove your innocence of the charge. Make sure you begin to gather evidence quickly when you know you are facing a charge, as your accusers may try to delete or tamper with conversations, messages or details that can help your case. Evidence can include screenshots of text messages, direct messages on social media, emails or more. It can also include witnesses who can be vital in bringing the true story to light.
Defer to your legal team
Dealing with the police and legal system can be a harrowing experience, particularly if you are being accused of a crime you did not commit or are being accused of making a misleading or false statement. It is common to feel stressed or depressed, particularly when you feel like your livelihood, reputation and life as you know it is under threat. However, the best decisions for your legal defence are based on sound logic, rational thinking, an understanding of the evidence and profound knowledge of the law. This means that it is in your best interest to listen to your experienced legal team’s advice and follow their directions as best you can. Defer to your legal representation when dealing with a police investigation and NSW court.
Contact LY Lawyers today for a free consultation to ensure you get the best outcome possible.