Injury claims and contempt of Court
I previously blogged on “Video Surveillance and Contempt of Court” and since, there has been another valuable lesson on how making intentionally exaggerated claims in injury cases may/will have severe consequences.
The recent case before Mr Justice Spencer; Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust v Atwal  EWHC 961 (QB), saw the Trust, in a clinical negligence claim, seeking Mr Atwal’s committal for contempt, where it was alleged that he had grossly exaggerated his injuries when bringing a claim.
The allegation was that Mr Atwal pursued a fraudulent claim for damages for clinical negligence by grossly exaggerating the continuing effect of comparatively minor injuries, sustained as long ago as 2008. The claim was pleaded in excess of £800,000 and included claims for future loss of earnings and future care.
The Trust succeeded in proving 14 allegations of contempt to the required criminal standard of proof.
Mr Justice Spencer helpfully set out at paragraphs 31-35 of his judgment the legal framework as follows:-
In this application for committal the Trust therefore alleges two forms of contempt, each of which is technically distinct in law, although in this case they overlap. First they allege interference, or attempted interference, with the due administration of justice by the defendant’s making false statements about his continuing disability to doctors and other experts who examined and interviewed him. That form of contempt requires, in this case, the Trust to prove that:
- the defendant deliberately set out to deceive the doctor or expert in question by falsely representing the extent of his continuing symptoms, either in the physical manner of his presentation or by lies told by the doctor or expert, or both;
- the defendant must have intended thereby to interfere with the administration of justice;
- the conduct complained of must have had a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice.
The second form of contempt alleged in this case derives from CPR 32.14(1) which provides:
“(1) 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 part 22 provides that among the documents which must be verified by a statement of truth are a schedule of expenses and losses in a personal injury claim, and a witness statement. The contempts alleged in this case include examples of false statements in both such documents.
In relation to this form of contempt it must be proved that:
- the statement in question was false;
- the statement has, or if persisted in would be likely to have, interfered with the course of justice in some material respect;
- at the time it was made the maker of the statement:
- had no honest belief in the truth of the statement; and
- knew of its likelihood to interfere with the course of justice.
The standard of proof in respect of each of the elements of contempt is, of course, proof beyond reasonable doubt: the criminal standard of proof. The burden of proof is on the party who brings the proceedings for contempt, in this case the Trust.
It is important in a case such as this to concentrate on the nub of what is complained of at its most serious, rather than to consider and adjudicate on every detail of an oral or written statement which is alleged to have been false. The real thrust of this application for committal is that the defendant quite deliberately set out to deceive the doctors and other experts about the extent of his continuing disability, and that he verified by a statement of truth assertions of fact in his witness statement, and in his schedule of loss and damage, consistent with the things he had told the doctors and other experts knowing those statements to be false. I do not propose to make a finding in respect of each and every one of the 33 allegations of contempt but, even if it is not found to be a specific contempt, the fact that the defendant made a particular statement to more than one doctor or other expert may well provide evidence to support the inference that the central false statement was made quite deliberately knowing it to be false and knowing that it was likely to affect the value of the claim.