Witnesses

15.5Witnesses who refuse to appear may commit a contempt (see para 38.57 ). In the past, witnesses who have refused to be sworn or take upon themselves some corresponding obligation to speak the truth,1 who have refused to answer questions,2 who refused to produce or destroyed documents in their possession,3 who have prevaricated,4 given false evidence,5 wilfully suppressed the truth,6 or persistently misled a committee7 have been considered guilty of contempt. A witness who trifled with a committee,8 was insolent9 or insulting,10 or appeared in a state of intoxication11 has been similarly punished.

Footnotes

  1. 1. LJ (1718–21) 418, 420; ibid (1870) 77.
  2. 2. LJ (1675–81) 54, 55; ibid (1691–96) 677; ibid (1718–21) 418, 420; CJ (1831–32) 360, 365; ibid (1833) 212, 218; ibid (1835) 501, 504, 514; ibid (1842) 223, 227; ibid (1852–54) 320; ibid (1897) 361, 365.
  3. 3. CJ (1788–89) 173; ibid (1835) 564, 571, 575; ibid (1946–47) 320, 377. For the case of a witness who destroyed a material document after their first examination before a committee, see ibid (1818–19) 618, 621. Refusal to answer a select committee has been condemned as a contempt in general terms, ibid (1946–47) 378.
  4. 4. LJ (1767–70) 188, 189; ibid (1810–11) 371; CJ (1821–22) 335; ibid (1826–28) 473; ibid (1835) 601; ibid (1847–48) 258; ibid (1851–52) 147; ibid (1852–54) 699, 742; ibid (1857) 354; ibid (1865–67) 239. In its First Report of 1996–97, the Committee on Standards and Privileges was concerned that a witness—a Member of the Commons—should have ‘dissembled’ in their evidence to it (HC 88).
  5. 5. CJ (1806–07) 256; ibid (1826–28) 473; ibid (1828) 147; ibid (1842) 168, 198, 206. See also Committee of Privileges, First Report, HC 336 (1982–83); First Report, HC 662 (2016–17), CJ (2010–12) 801. It is an offence under the Perjury Act 1911 to give false evidence to a select committee on oath (see para 13.14 ).
  6. 6. CJ (1828) 122; Parl Deb (1828) 18, c 936.
  7. 7. CJ (1947–48) 22.
  8. 8. CJ (1688–93) 294.
  9. 9. CJ (1660–67) 296.
  10. 10. CJ (1640–42) 803. In the past, counsel appearing before the Commons were punished for reflecting on Parliament (ibid (1547–1628) 488, 489) or on Members of the House (1 Grey Deb 145).
  11. 11. CJ (1852–54) 389.