Solicitors “at risk of contempt finding” by signing statement of truth in bogus claims, judge warns

Warby: Arguable that a false statement in a CNF could found an application to commit for contempt

The High Court has raised the prospect of solicitors who sign statements of truth on behalf of fraudulent clients being held in contempt of court.

Mr Justice Warby suggested that the Civil Procedure Rule Committee should look at the issue.

He was ruling in a case brought by insurer Liverpool Victoria to commit nine people to prison for bringing bogus ‘cash for crash’ personal injury claims and telling lies to support them which amounted to contempt of court.

The insurance fraud team in the Leeds office of DWF worked on the case for Liverpool Victoria.

The judge granted the orders, saying he was “in no doubt that all the defendants told deliberate lies from the outset, and throughout the proceedings in the county court and this court”.

He continued: “They lied in their witness statements, in their schedules of loss, and in their statements of case in the county court, and (it follows) in their affidavits and oral evidence to this court. The crashes never happened. The defendants were not injured…

“Nor have any of them rebutted the presumptions that apply, where a statement of truth is made by a solicitor. Every statement made by them or on their behalf to the effect that these things did happen was a lie by them. Their claims were thoroughly false and dishonest from the start.”

In a footnote, Warby J 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.

He explained: “I do not propose to make any findings about this. I mention the matter only because some evidence was led about these CNFs, which led to me query 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.”

The three drivers of the different accidents were imprisoned for 16 months, 12 months and nine months respectively. The passengers each received four-month prison sentences with all, except one, suspended for one year due to mitigating features.

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