The speed with which politicians on both sides of the referendum debate have sought, since the result was announced, to distance themselves from what was said previously on their side has been quite breath taking. Under rigorous cross examination from a variety of journalists those ‘in the witness box’ have seemingly had no problem saying in terms and with a straight face “well that may have been what I said then but this is what I am saying now”.
Unfortunately with no judge there to say that they are giving evidence on oath (or at least should perhaps be) they appear to be able to “get away with it” with impunity. Of course a large part of the practice of law involves seeking to sort out the truths from the half truths and the no truths and to enforce the consequence which flow from not telling ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ .
Under the criminal law there are plenty of laws imposing consequences for dishonesty be they fines or imprisonment. In the property context consumer protection regulations impose penalties on estate agents for giving misleading information about properties they are selling. A contract brought about as a result of a fraudulent misrepresentation is liable to be set aside. In the civil/commercial law context all witness statements must contain a statement of truth certifying that the witness actually believes “that the facts stated in the witness statement are true” such that at least in theory the consequences of not telling the truth in the witness statement should be treated in a similar way to a witness perjuring themselves in the witness box.
In the political arena however there seem to be a surprisingly high number of politicians who seem to get away with being somewhat less than candid with apparent impunity. Perhaps there needs to be a new offence created so that at the very least the worst offenders are brought to book.
In the light of what has happened to sterling and the stock market following the announcement of the referendum vote perhaps it should be ‘obtaining a pecuniary disadvantage by deception!’