12 October, 2011
The Queens Bench Division of the High Court delivered on 5 October 2011 a judgment in the case of Lane v Shah and was required to consider the length and severity of sentence for Contempt of Court.
The first Respondent was Mrs Shah and the second and third Respondent's her husband and daughter, who were alleged witnesses. Mrs Shah had sought damages from the Applicant for personal injuries sustained in a road traffic accident. Committal proceedings were brought against the Respondents by the applicant driver and his insurer.
Untruthful witness statements and an exaggerated schedule of loss were made in order to inflate the personal injury claim. These statements were verified by statements of truth, which were later found to be false by the applicant's insurers. The Respondents claimed that they were not made aware of the consequences for signing a statement of truth attached to false information.
Although the Respondents admitted that they had deceived the Court, they made representations that a suspended sentence would be appropriate owing to their previous good character and remorse for their actions.
This was rejected by the Judges; they stated that those who make such false claims should, if caught, expect to go to prison. They believed that there is no other way to deter people from exaggerating claims or in the interests of furthering the administration of justice.
Mrs Shah was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and both her husband and daughter were each sentenced to three months' imprisonment but each would serve half of those periods.
The Civil Procedure Rules make it clear that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against a person if he makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.
This case serves as an important reminder as to the severity of falsifying or exaggerating Personal Injury claims and illustrates the significance of the Statement of Truth in the eyes of the Judiciary.
It also mirrors the experience of Forbes' Anti Fraud Unit following an investigation into a bogus claim. When sentencing the claimant and his witness for perjury, the judge said that, "the punishment for perjury is severe because it has to be. This is so serious it is my intention not only to punish you but to act as a deterrent in other cases."
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