Falsification of Documents and the Law

Whilst the offence of Forgery no longer exists, it is an offence to knowingly falsify or misrepresent documents. You may have seen warnings on legal documents (such as loan applications or contracts) about making false representations on the truthfulness of the contents. For example, if you falsify your income on a bank loan that you subsequently are approved for, you could be charged with falsification of documentation.[1] We discuss the law and possible defences in this latest article.

Falsification of documents

Falsifying a document means to make a document appear to be genuine, such as if it was authorised, signed or created by someone who did not actually authorise, sign or create it. Falsifying a document can also include altering a document without permission or authorisation to do so.

There are several categories of the charge, covering the creation, use, production of copies or use of a copied falsified document.[2] You can also be charged with this offence if you had in your possession a falsified document and had intended to use (or another to use) the falsified document (whether you actually did so or not).[3] An example can be altering a cheque you received for $1,000 and adding an extra zero to make the cheque amount $10,000. Or, you could have falsified details on a passport, which is considered to be a legal document.[4]

Another offence exists to create or have in one’s possession, a machine or other implement that can be used by yourself, or another, to falsify a document. It is also an offence to possess such machine, with an intention to use it to commit a falsification of document offence.[5]

Importantly, you could be charged with a Commonwealth offence if the entity involved is a government department (e.g. Medicare or Centrelink) or if the document is a Commonwealth document (e.g. passport).[6]

Elements of the Charge

To prove a falsification of documents charge, the Police must establish, beyond reasonable doubt that you:

  1. Knowingly made or used a falsified document or a copy of a falsified document;
  2. Intended to use the document to induce another to believe the document was correct;
  3. To another person’s prejudice (meaning another person was affected by either losing money, property a financial advantage or lost an opportunity to do so).[7]

The Police must prove that you had an intent to create, produce or use a false document, and that document was treated as genuine by another, which influenced them to take a specific action.

Falsification of Documents Penalty

The maximum penalty for a falsification of documents charge (or possessing a machine or implement with the intent to commit an offence) is 10 years imprisonment.[8]

Possible Defences

As there are several categories relating to falsifying a document, it is important that you raise a defence specific to your case. You should contact a lawyer to discuss your individual case. Depending on the facts, you can argue that it was not yourself who made the changes to the falsified document, as the Police must establish that it was you who made or used the falsified document. You can also argue that you believed the document to be genuine and therefore had no knowledge that it was false. You can also use the honest and reasonable mistake defence, arguing that you believed you were entitled to make amendments to the document, or similar. You can also argue that you had no intention to actually use or produce the falsified document. It is also a defence that the document was not relied upon to another’s prejudice (detriment).

If you are charged with possession of a machine or implement that could be used to falsify a document, you could argue that you had no knowledge that it was a machine specifically used to falsify documents.

We suggest that you should contact an experienced legal practitioner as soon as possible if you are to be interviewed in relation to this offence so that you can be provided with appropriate advice based on the circumstances relevant to your matter.

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[1] The Queen v Kieu Thi Huynh [2014] VSC 53.
[2] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 83A s(1)-(5).
[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 83A (5A).
[4] The Queen v Thomas [2006] VSCA 165.
[5] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 83A (5B)(5C).
[6] Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) s 137.2
[7] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 83A.
[8] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 83A.

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