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Right to lie is a human right?

Updated: Apr 14

X judge recently ruled drug cheat cyclist A had the constitutional right to lie about himself in his books and threw out a lawsuit brought by readers accusing him of fraud.

Angry fans of the disgraced champion cyclist wanted 10 crores in refunds for people who had bought A's autobiographies in which he falsely stated he never took performance-enhancing drugs. They argued it was false advertising as they would never have bought the book had they known he was lying. But the X ruled A's writings were non-commercial free speech and therefore protected.

Yes, we do have constitutional protection of free speech, but do we have a legal right to lie?

I think it all depends where and how you lie.

Basically, if someone was to rely on your false statement to their detriment it may give rise to criminal prosecution or civil liability.

It’s illegal for company directors to make false statements about their holdings and their company. It’s illegal for people like doctors, lawyers, engineers or builders to make false claims about their qualifications. But it’s not illegal for a baker to claim they are the best in Australia.

It’s illegal to lie on a legal document or in court. Lying when applying for a bank loan could end in the bank voiding the loan. Lying on your CV isn’t a breach of law, but could be grounds for dismissal. Lie about someone on the Internet or in print and you are open to the laws of defamation if it hurts their reputation.

The law stays clear of the rights or wrongs of telling little white lies in relationships. Saying you’re working late when you’re in bed with a lover isn’t legal grounds to call the cops. Point to be noted here is that lying to someone in a personal relationship might give rise to civil rights of recovery if the lies or false promises are relied on and lead to financial loss or damage.

“The difficulty in these types of matters is not in the operation of the law per se, but the practical aspects of recovery depending on the extent of the lie.”

Similarly, you can be sued over a hoax or prank if it causes damage to a third party.

It’s illegal to lie on a legal document or in court. Lying when applying for a bank loan could end in the bank voiding the loan. Lie about someone on the Internet or in print and you are open to the laws of defamation if it hurts their reputation.

In simple terms, Perjury is defined as an offence of lying when you are under oath. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines Perjury in Chapter IX "OF FALSE EVIDENCE AND OFFENCES AGAINST PUBLIC JUSTICE" under Section 191. The punishment for the offence of Perjury is defined under section 193 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as SEVEN YEARS of imprisonment. The procedure in dealing with cases mentioned u/s 191 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 are dealt in Chapter XXVI of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 under section 340.

In criminal law. The willful assertion as to a matter of fact, opinion, belief, or knowledge, made by a witness in a judicial proceeding as part of his evidence, either upon oath or in any form allowed by law to be substituted for an oath, whether such evidence is given in open court, or in an affidavit, or otherwise, such assertion being known to such witness to be false, and being intended by him to misled the court, jury, or person holding the proceeding. (Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed. And The Law Dictionary)

In simple terms Perjury is defined as an offence of lying when you are under oath. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines Perjury in Chapter IX "OF FALSE EVIDENCE AND OFFENCES AGAINST PUBLIC JUSTICE" under Section 191. The punishment for the offence of Perjury is defined under section 193 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as SEVEN YEARS of imprisonment. The procedure in dealing with cases mentioned u/s 191 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 are dealt in Chapter XXVI of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 under section 340.


PRE-REQUISITES FOR INITIATION OF PROCEEDINGS UNDER SECTION 340 OF THE CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, 1973

There are two pre-conditions for initiating proceedings under Section 340 CrPC –

A) Materials produced before the court must make out a prima facie case for a complaint for the purpose of inquiry into an offence referred to in clause (b)(i) of sub-Section (1) of Section 195 of the CrPC and

B) It is expedient in the interests of justice that an inquiry should be made into the alleged offence.

The mere fact that a person has made a contradictory statement in a judicial proceeding is not by itself always sufficient to justify a prosecution under Sections 199 and 200 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) (hereinafter referred to as "the IPC"); but it must be shown that the defendant has intentionally given a false statement at any stage of the judicial proceedings or fabricated false evidence for the purpose of using the same at any stage of the judicial proceedings. Even after the above position has emerged also, still the court has to form an opinion that it is expedient in the interests of justice to initiate an inquiry into the offences of false evidence and offences against public justice and more specifically referred in Section 340(1) of the CrPC, having regard to the overall factual matrix as well as the probable consequences of such a prosecution. (See K.T.M.S. Mohd. and Another v. Union of India(1992) 3 SCC 178).

The court must be satisfied that such an inquiry is required in the interests of justice and appropriate in the facts of the case.

In the process of formation of opinion by the court that it is expedient in the interests of justice that an inquiry should be made into, the requirement should only be to have a prima facie satisfaction of the offence which appears to have been committed. It is open to the court to hold a preliminary inquiry though it is not mandatory. In case, the court is otherwise in a position to form such an opinion, that it appears to the court that an offence as referred to under Section 340 of the CrPC has been committed, the court may dispense with the preliminary inquiry. Even after forming an opinion as to the offence which appears to have been committed also, it is not mandatory that a complaint should be filed as a matter of course. (See Pritish v. State of Maharashtra and Others (2002) 1 SCC 253).

In Iqbal Singh Marwah and Another v. Meenakshi Marwah and another (2005) 4 SCC 370, a Constitution Bench of this Court has gone into the scope of Section 340 of the CrPC.

Paragraph-23 deals with the relevant consideration:

"23. In view of the language used in Section 340 CrPC the court is not bound to make a complaint regarding commission of an offence referred to in Section 195(1)(b), as the section is conditioned by the words "court is of opinion that it is expedient in the interests of justice". This shows that such a course will be adopted only if the interest of justice requires and not in every case. Before filing of the complaint, the court may hold a preliminary enquiry and record a finding to the effect that it is expedient in the interests of justice that enquiry should be made into any of the offences referred to in Section 195(1)(b). This expediency will normally be judged by the court by weighing not the magnitude of injury suffered by the person affected by such forgery or forged document, but having regard to the effect or impact, such commission of offence has upon administration of justice. It is possible that such forged document or forgery may cause a very serious or substantial injury to a person in the sense that it may deprive him of a very valuable property or status or the like, but such document may be just a piece of evidence produced or given in evidence in court, where voluminous evidence may have been adduced and the effect of such piece of evidence on the broad concept of administration of justice may be minimal. In such circumstances, the court may not consider it expedient in the interest of justice to make a complaint. ..."


People resort to lying for so many different reasons that it’d be impossible to list them all. However, of the most common motives for telling lies, avoiding punishment is the primary motivator for both children and adults. Other typical reasons include protecting ourselves or others from harm, maintaining privacy, and avoiding embarrassment, to name a few.

If you find yourself lying about teeny tiny things up to really huge fundamental truths, you’re not alone and it doesn’t need to be the way you’re living your life. You can find a way to experience enough safety to tell the truth. You can learn how lying was a trauma response. You can learn about trauma and the impact it has on your life. Through healing the trauma, you can have more options about your behaviour, including a decrease to extinguishing the lying behaviour. In doing this work, you also get to learn ways to connect with yourself and with others in ways that are fulfilling so you don’t have to feel so alone. Lying might be your primary defence mechanism now and I get why you might want to use it as such. Let’s get you some more options.


Write to me about lying as self-defence.

mail@uditmalik.com