Journalism in the Public Interest

Could James Murdoch Be Punished If He Lied Before Parliament?


James Murdoch (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

It’s three against one for James Murdoch. That’s the latest tally of how many former News International executives have publicly accused the son of Rupert Murdoch of giving inaccurate testimony before Parliament last week. 

The younger Murdoch says he stands by his testimony, but what if it turns out he fibbed? Could James Murdoch be tried for perjury?  

In the United States, witnesses before congressional committees commonly testify under oath [PDF] at investigative hearings—thereby criminalizing any intentional misstatements, which are punishable by up to five years in prison.

But taking an oath to tell the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is less common in hearings before British parliamentary committees, according to the Guardian. Though the committee reportedly considered making an exception for the Murdochs, ultimately no oath was administered.

So, even if Murdoch had lied, he wouldn’t have committed perjury. In theory, Murdoch could still be punished by fines or imprisonment if he’s found to have committed a contempt of Parliament or, in other words, done something to impede the work of Parliament.

But such serious sanctions are rare. One member of Parliament said last week that criminal sanctions hadn’t been applied to lying witnesses “in modern times.” Read the exchange between the MP and the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young:

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): Select Committees will have a vital role in getting to the truth behind the allegations of phone hacking and other corrupt practices, but in modern times this place has not used criminal sanctions against witnesses who lie to Select Committees. In the light of the inquiries announced this week and the public interest, would it be possible to have an urgent debate when the House returns in September on why this is?

Sir George Young: If a Select Committee feels that there has been a contempt, the procedure is that it makes a report to the House and then the Speaker decides whether to give it priority, and if he does it is put on the Order Paper and referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee. If that Committee finds that there has been a contempt, it has at its disposal a wide range of penalties, including fines. ... It is entirely a matter for the Standards and Privileges Committee, and ultimately the House, what sanctions should then be applied to anyone who has committed a contempt.

Murdoch testified last week that he had signed off on a phone hacking settlement with a British soccer player without knowledge of the details—and in particular, without seeing a key piece of evidence: an email laying out the extent of phone hacking at the newspaper. Two former News of the World executives have countered that statement, saying Murdoch was “mistaken”—they had personally showed him the email at the time. Several British politicians—including British Prime Minister David Cameron—have said that Murdoch should be hauled back before Parliament to explain the discrepancies.

One of the two executives, Colin Myler, also faces similar questions about inaccurate testimony before Parliament. James Murdoch himself had said when closing News of the World that company executives had misled Parliament in earlier hearings on phone hacking that took place in 2007 and 2009. Myler, along with former News International chairman Les Hinton, had testified in those hearings that there was no evidence that more than one reporter had been involved in the hacking. Hinton resigned two weeks ago from his post as CEO of Dow Jones & Co., saying his testimony wasn't meant to mislead and that he hadn’t been aware of what was happening at the company.

The parliamentary committee has said it will ask James Murdoch to respond to the allegations that his testimony was inaccurate. 

Glenn LaBauve

July 25, 2011, 3:42 p.m.

It is a shame that the British have done away with the practice of hanging, drawing and quartering then hanging the head on a pike as a warning to others.  But a sever caning should suffice, (Singapore is still part of the Commonwealth?)

The referral to Scotland Yard on Murdoch’s testimony by an MP mentioned obstruction of justice as a possible line of criminal inquiry. Can you address that referral in any updates on your article and whether either the testimony or the alleged original hush-money settlement to conceal the scope of hacking could constitute an obstruction of justice crime?

lolll…“could he” and “would he” are two separate and distinct questions.  Given that England is the birthplace of corrupting-government-is-just-good-business, I find it unlikely that any individual - to include a Murdoch - who is backed by a corporation the size of News Corp. will ever be punished for any deed as banal (at least in the West) as lying to government.

Even when a corporation commits a crime so..public…that their pet politicians cannot just sweep their crimes under the rug of endless hearings and obfuscated reports, like as not the culpable individuals will escape punishment personally; instead, the amoral corporation-as-person they steered into criminality absorbs their punishment for them.

I should have been more specific when I said “the amoral corporation-as-person they steered into criminality absorbs their punishment for them”.

What that means in practical terms is the shareholder and the consumer pay for the crimes of those who hide behind the facade of corporation-as-person.

If parliament ends up hanging him, pls. be sure to use a silken rope.

Still waiting for the follow up on the whistleblower who exposed Murdock? What money and power can buy!
Seen it first hand in my whistleblower case.Check out my youtube videos under (OSHA whistleblower)in four parts.If you watch it as for the tecnicion who had his wife a (Delaware state trooper) check out the OSHA investigator to make shore he was not with the company.This was comfirmed by the OSHA investigator. I would say he is worried about retaliation.The DOJ was informed of this and the Delawaer state police lets see how this is swept under the rug.Remember Thomas Drake the NSA whistleblower the only thing they coud get him on was unauthorized use of a goverment computer.

Gregg S

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