Theoretically a man will not lie under oath or to his better half (who always seems to know the truth anyway - it is rather uncanny!) Then some say children will not lie - they are too innocent - it is however proven beyond doubt that children will lie if they think it will help their cause. So what happens then in a court of law? You all have seen the witness taking the oath and then tell his version of the events under consideration which always has three perspectives, your view, my view and the truth somewhere in between. Witnesses are horribly unreliable even when honest.
Cynically I can tell you that the oath the witnesses take has no real l meaning in court...witnesses, especially when they are also the accused, lie all the time and many admit so afterwards. Theoretically that kind of behaviour is prohibited by law in the form off a crime known as "perjury" but it is seldom enforced. We witnessed (excuse the pun) a lot of that during the "terrorism trials" in the old South Africa quite a lot. You only have to read the autobiographies of the accused to find the evidence. Each to his own!
Any witness runs the risk of being declared, after due warning, to be a hostile witness in certain cases and then you have the illogicality of him being cross examined by his own legal team. Now cross examination is nothing but testing his story / testimony on the ground of law of evidence rules applicable (balance of properties in civil cases and beyond reasonable doubt in criminal cases). It involves vigorous questioning. Does this mean the attorneys / advocates lie in court to gain the upper hand?
Absolutely not! Despite all the movies and books and no doubt horror barbecue stories you heard third or fourth hand; lawyers never lie in court and you can bet your last penny if he says he will call someone to testify to whatever he will do so in due course. You simply do not bluff or ask a question without knowing the answer. For evidential reasons (very boring) the lawyer will always say "Sir, I put it to you that...."
Take note too, the prosecutor only has the duty to bring the State's (Victim's) case to court, not to obtain a guilty verdict at any and all cost! Nor do the defense team have a duty to obtain a non-guilty verdict at any and all cost but only to bring the accused's case to the court and defend him to the best of his ability. It is not a personal. We have a saying in law "I (the lawyer) will always walk out of court, you on the other hand, being the accused, is an entirely different matter and may stay behind for the rest of your life." Hence we demand payment upfront just in case!
The moment the attorney realises his client lied to him he will withdraw from the case as the trust relationship between them is broken. Nor will he tell the witness what to say during consultation (before court) but he may use his well-practised stare of utter disbelief when his client tells a story which his own mom will find hard to believe. He may even kindly suggest that his client "perhaps overlooked the other witnesses" (hostile to him for unknown reasons no doubt) and who is now "ganging up against him" but remarkably, they all say one story which is contradictory to his own version. The sad fact is that some jurists are stating bluntly that the taking of the oath is of so little value that it should be ignored. I am not sure what that says about the times we live in.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.