Many parties to litigation are reluctant players for whom it is has always been a guiding principle of business that the courts are best avoided. By the time that solicitors are instructed it is often as a last resort, in proceedings which are an important but unpleasant distraction, and the court case which follows can be an expensive, hotly contested battle. It is understandable that clients might welcome a situation in which their solicitors or other advisers have authority, pursuant to both their terms of engagement and the courts’ rules, to conduct almost all aspects of the litigation on their behalf. The retained solicitors will regularly correspond with opponents and the court; they will put their client’s side of the case into the form of one or more witness statements; they will instruct a barrister who might draft particulars of claim and present the case at trial; they are even able, under the rules of court, to sign statements of truth on their client’s behalf on various court documents, including the claim and the defence.
Busy executives often pay their legal advisers precisely so as to take much of the burden of litigation out of their own hands. However, the solicitor remains no more than the client’s agent, and can only act upon their client’s instructions, albeit instructions which are commonly given on the basis of the solicitor’s own advice. Litigants must keep in mind that whilst the litigation is undoubtedly important to them, their involvement and participation is just as important. In a recent case*, HRH Prince Abdulaziz, a Saudi prince, was subject, with others, to a case management order directing that all parties to the claim should file and serve certain statements, “certified by a Statement of Truth signed by them personally…”. The statements in question were to identify the location and other details of various email accounts and electronic devices to which the parties had had access. The requirement for a party to personally sign court documents applies in a number of instances, notably in the case of their own witness statement or, very often, in the case of a disclosure statement. After all, a witness statement is evidence of the witness’ own words and belief and, in the case of disclosure, the need for a personal statement is designed to bring home to each party their very serious responsibilities.
The Statement of Truth on Prince Abdulaziz’s statements was signed not by him but by one of his close advisers. As he was in breach of the court’s order, the Prince was made subject to an ‘unless order’ providing that his defence would be struck out and judgment would be entered against him if he failed to comply. The Prince again failed to sign his Statement of Truth and judgment was duly entered. The Prince’s lawyers had argued that there was a Saudi Arabian protocol that members of the Royal Family should not become personally involved, in any way, in litigation. On appeal, the Supreme Court approved the decisions of the courts below it, treating the existence and applicability of such a protocol with scepticism, and approving comments in an earlier decision that, if the Prince’s suggestion was adopted, “there is a real risk that the overall fairness of the proceedings will be jeopardised. Everyone else will have put their cards on the table. The Prince will deal through an agent”. This would be unfair because “everyone else will be exposed to criticism and have their credibility attacked if they are shown to have concealed some relevant account…or relevant communication. But, the Prince says that he should be exempt from that criticism.”
The decision gives a salutary reminder to litigants that no matter who they are, a court rule or direction requiring them to do anything personally, rather than through their lawyers, should be ignored at their own peril.
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*HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mishal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Appellant) v Apex Global Management Ltd and Another (Respondents)  UKSC 64