During the course of Court proceedings, a party will prepare a number of documents in support of its case, including a Claim Form and Particulars of Claim (if the party is the Claimant), a Defence (if the party is the Defendant), witness evidence and expert reports. These are examples of documents which, under the Court rules, should be verified by a Statement of Truth.
A Statement of Truth does exactly that: it is a clear statement that the person signing the document believes that the facts contained within it are true. The Court treats Statements of Truth very seriously: under the Court rules 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 (CPR 32.14), the rationale being that a false Statement of Truth is viewed as an attempt to interfere with the course of justice. The penalties for contempt of Court include a fine and/or imprisonment (Contempt of Court Act 1981).
A recent Commercial Court case* provided some guidance as to how the Court will approach sentencing for contempt. In brief, this was the Claimant’s application for committal of the Second Defendant arising out of the First Defendant’s breach of an undertaking it gave during the course of the proceedings. The Second Defendant was the Chief Executive and President of the First Defendant and the First Defendant acted through him in these proceedings. In concluding that an immediate custodial sentence of 18 months “would reflect the gravity of the contempt”, the Court took into account the fact that the Second Defendant:
- Committed the contempt deliberately and “for very substantial financial gain”;
- Subverted “a consensual arrangement”;
- Deliberately concealed his actions and “allowed the solicitors and Counsel to unintentionally mislead the Claimants and the Court”;
- “Swore a false affidavit and signed a false Statement of Truth”; and
- Failed to explain his actions or offer an apology.
Whilst the above case is an extreme example, in which the false Statement of Truth was but one of several factors the Court took into account in committing the Second Defendant for contempt, it does illustrate that if a party to legal proceedings lies to the Court, they do so at their peril.
*Todaysure Matthews Limited and another –v- Matthews International Corporation and another  EWHC 584 (Comm).
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