Landmark Judgment - Dishonest witness statements made in Pre-Action Protocol can be subject of contempt proceedings

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19 December, 2019

Jet 2 Holidays Ltd v (1) K Hughes (2) L Hughes (2019)[2019] EWCA Civ 1858

The Court of Appeal has confirmed that false witness statements verified by a statement of truth, made in compliance with a pre-action protocol (PAP), can give rise to an application for committal for contempt.

The background

Karl and Laura Hughes alleged that they had contracted food poisoning whilst on holiday as a result of eating contaminated food and drink and swimming in the hotel's insanitary swimming pool. They brought claims under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Pursuant to the Personal Injury Claims PAP, the claimants sent witness statements to Jet 2 alleging

"that food was left uncovered for long periods; it seemed that the food was reused on several occasions; the burgers seemed undercooked; there were ants and beetles around the food areas and ants were crawling on the bread; children were being sick in the children's pool and the respondents' child became ill from swallowing the pool water; the respondents started to feel ill on the second day and began being sick on the third day; they were acutely ill for the remainder of the holiday with diarrhoea, stomach pains, vomiting, lack of energy and feeling very weak and were not 100 per cent fit on returning from the holiday; and they believed that their sickness was caused as a result of the undercooked food and unhygienic conditions at the hotel".

Upon investigating the claims, Jet 2 found various images and comments posted by Karl and Laura Hughes on social media during their holiday, including Facebook posts, a YouTube video and two Twitter posts, which indicated that they and their children were physically well during the holiday and had an enjoyable time while staying at the hotel.

Jet 2 rejected the claims for damages and Karl and Laura Hughes did not commence legal proceedings. However, Jet 2 sought permission to commence committal proceedings against the Hughes' for making allegedly false statements, verified by a statement of truth.

Court of Appeal decision

The issue for the Court was whether a false statement (verified by a statement of truth) served before proceedings were commenced, and made with the purpose of eliciting an admission of liability could give rise to contempt.

The judge at first instance held that it was not appropriate for committal proceedings to proceed where the claim was never pursued. He dismissed Jet 2's application and he struck out the committal proceedings with no order as to costs.

The Court of Appeal overturned the decision. It was held that the test at common law was whether the conduct in question involved an interference with the administration of justice. The Court of Appeal held it was well established that an act might be a contempt of court even though it was carried out before the commencement of proceedings. The Court stressed that PAPs are now an 'integral and highly important part of litigation architecture' and therefore any dishonest witness statement served in compliance with a PAP is capable of interfering with the due administration of justice.

Forbes comment

This is a landmark case and has significant implications for the insurance industry as a whole. Going forward, defendants will be able to pursue dishonest claimants and potentially bring contempt proceedings even if they have not commenced formal legal proceedings. This process will be made easier if the Civil Procedure Rules are amended as suggested by the Court of Appeal. In an obiter comment, the Court of Appeal was clear that the current rules are unsatisfactory and that that the Civil Procedure Rules should be amended to specifically address the possibility of contempt in relation to such statements.

For more information contact Sarah Wilkinson in our Insurance department via email or phone on 01254 662831. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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