The CPR are set to be changed so that a witness statement verified by a statement of truth made by a prospective claimant before the commencement of proceedings can give rise to contempt.
The rule committee is acting in the wake of the Court of Appeal’s ruling last year in Jet 2 Holidays Ltd v Hughes about allegedly false statements made in witness statements from claimants in a holiday sickness claim served in compliance with the pre-action protocol (PAP).
The court agreed with the judge at first instance that jurisdiction to bring the committal proceedings was not conferred by rule 32.14, as it did not cover witness statements made before the commencement of proceedings – although it said the court has an inherent power to commit for contempt irrespective of the CPR.
The court held: “A dishonest witness statement served in purported compliance with a PAP is capable of interfering with the due administration of justice for the purposes of engaging the jurisdiction to commit for contempt because PAPs are now an integral and highly important part of litigation architecture.”
The court expressed its dissatisfaction that such statements fell outside rule 32.14 and that applications for contempt for false statements could only be brought in the Administrative Court: “It is highly desirable, therefore, that the possibility of contempt in relation to such statements should be expressly addressed in the Civil Procedure Rules and a practice direction.”
The December meeting of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC), whose minutes were published last month, noted “the importance of this decision” and the lacuna sub committee’s recommendations to change the rules accordingly.
Given the scope of its application to the PAPs as well as the CPR and a general public interest point, the CPRC referred the issue to its contempt sub-committee.