Rule committee declines to consider contempt question over solicitors who act on fraudulent claims

Warby: Case raised questions

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee has rejected a High Court judge’s suggestion that it consider whether solicitors who sign statements of truth on behalf of fraudulent clients could be held in contempt of court.

Mr Justice Warby said the rules were not clear on whether this was possible, and said it may be a matter for the committee.

However, the recently published minutes of the committee’s February meeting said members agreed that “it would not be appropriate to address the statement of truth issue raised in the judgment at this time”.

Warby J was ruling late last year in a case brought by insurer Liverpool Victoria and committed eight people to prison for bringing bogus ‘cash for crash’ personal injury claims and telling lies to support them which amounted to contempt of court.

In a footnote, he said the case raised a “related question” around the fact that the false statements were made on their behalf in the claims notification forms (CNFs), where were verified by statements of truth signed by their solicitors.

This led to the question of whether contempt proceedings could be brought in respect of such a statement.

“I express no view on whether this is desirable, but note that it must be the case that many RTA claims are resolved without proceedings, on the basis of CNFs in Form RTA1.”

The judge said the personal injury pre-action protocol (PAP) contained nothing about the consequences of false verification, but the general PAP stated: “The court will expect the parties to have complied with this practice direction or any relevant pre-action protocol.”

Practice direction 22 on statements of truth provides that a solicitor’s signature will be taken by the court as his statement that “before signing he had explained to the client that in signing the statement of truth he would be confirming the client’s belief that the facts stated in the document were true”.

It also confirms that “before signing he had informed the client of the possible consequences to the client if it should subsequently appear that the client did not have an honest belief in the truth of those facts”.

Warby J said: “It may be arguable therefore that a false and dishonest statement in a CNF in Form RTA1 could found an application to commit for contempt, but it cannot be said that the matter is free from doubt.

“To say that the court ‘will expect’ compliance with a PAP is not necessarily equivalent to saying that parties must comply [his emphasis]. The general PAP states that parties who do not comply may be asked for an explanation, and warns of costs consequences, but not of the prospect of contempt proceedings.

“This is a topic that may be worthy of consideration by those responsible for these PAPs, and perhaps the Civil Procedure Rule Committee.”

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