Committal for False Statements: A Non-Issue

The Court of Appeal has handed down judgment in the case of Jet2 Holidays Limited v Hughes [2019] EWCA Civ 1858. The Court has held that a witness statement containing false statements made before the issue of proceedings can give rise to contempt of court and can be susceptible to an application for committal for contempt, notwithstanding no claim ever being issued.

The unanimous decision of Sir Terence Etherton MR, Hamblen LJ and Flaux LJ was to allow the appeal of Jet2 against the first instance decision of HHJ Owen QC. The respondents did not attend the appeal hearing, but made written representations via their legal representatives.

The respondents had intimated a claim for travel sickness against the appellant, producing witness statements in purported compliance with the Personal Injury Claims Pre-Action Protocol (‘PI PAP’). The appellant found photographic and written evidence on social media to contradict the allegations that the respondents had suffered illness whilst on their holiday. An application was made via a Part 8 Claim Form, pursuant to CPR 81.18, for permission to commence committal proceedings against the respondents. This was met with an acknowledgment of service and further witness statements which ‘doubled-down’ on the allegations, and sought to explain the positive social media posts as the respondents putting up a ‘front’ whilst on holiday which they did not in fact enjoy.

Following the grant of permission, the appellant then made an application to add additional grounds of contempt, in relation to matters contained within the further witness statements filed at the same time as the acknowledgment of service. The respondents did not issue a claim for travel sickness at any point.

The decision of the Court of Appeal was that whilst the first-instance Judge was correct in concluding that CPR 32.14 did not catch the statements produced prior to the issue of any claim, the power to commit was independent of any proceedings and inherent within the court’s common law powers, as set out in CPR 81.2(3), as well as the case of Griffin v Griffin [2000] EWCA Civ 119 at paragraph 21. The test at common law is whether the conduct involved an interference with the due administration of justice.

The Court held that the Judge at first instance had misdirected himself in deciding that contempt of court could not be committed in respect of false statements made within witness statements (with signed statements of truth), which were made prior to the commencement of proceedings.

Further, the Court decided that the application made by Jet2 to add further grounds of contempt ought not to have been dismissed.

In reaching their conclusion, the Appellate Court Judges considered that CPR 81.13(2) was the governing provision as regards the original witness statements. This pertained to situations where contempt was allegedly committed ‘otherwise than in connection with any proceedings’. CPR 32.14 caught the further witness statements, such that the application to amend should have been granted.

Whilst the pre-action correspondence had been sent in purported compliance with the PI PAP, on these facts the Disease and Illness Claims PAP would have been more appropriate. Further, had the pre-action correspondence been sent on or after 7 May 2018, then the applicable PAP would have been the Resolution of Package Travel Claims PAP. The Court held that it was immaterial which PAP was applicable, because ‘all PAPs are now an integral and highly important part of litigation architecture’. Therefore a dishonest statement served in purported compliance with any PAP is capable of interfering with the due administration of justice and engaging the committal jurisdiction.

The decision is of interest to all personal injury practitioners as well as those who specialise in travel sickness claims, and serves as a reminder of the gravity of statements backed by signed statements of truth in line with CPR 22.1.1(c), 32.4(2) and 32.8. Rather than drawing a distinction between the Pre-Action Protocols and the Civil Procedure Rules themselves, the Court has instead considered the PAPs to be closely integrated into the litigation framework, such that alleged contempt could be committed within witness statements made without any claim ever being issued.

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