The recent case of Axa Insurance UK Plc v Reid  EWHC 993 (QB) serves as an important reminder for anyone signing a document containing a Statement of Truth, to ensure the contents of that document are both accurate and correct. If any false information is found to be contained in a document verified with a statement of truth, the person signing the document can be held to be in contempt of Court.
In this case, Mr Reid made a witness statement, verified by a Statement of Truth, in support of a claim he was bringing seeking damages. If Mr Reid’s claim was successful, Axa Insurance would be responsible for making payment of any damages awarded. In his statement, Mr Reid said there was an independent witness, Mr Summers, who could verify Mr Reid’s version of events. Axa investigated and discovered that Mr Summers was not in fact an independent witness, contrary to what Mr Reid was saying, with both individuals being well known to each other. Axa’s findings discredited Mr Reid’s witness evidence and highlighted the false statements he had made.
Axa commenced proceedings against Mr Reid for contempt of Court arising from the false statements made in his witness statement. The proceedings were heard by Mrs Justice Eady who acknowledged the serious nature of the false statements in Mr Reid’s witness statement, concluding that she would be failing in her duty to do justice if an immediate term of imprisonment was not imposed upon Mr Reid, and committed him to eight weeks imprisonment.
This case also serves as a helpful reminder that, in so far as civil contempt proceedings are concerned, the concepts applicable to criminal law sentencing will be applied. Whilst it is in the Court’s discretion to impose a fine and/or imprisonment to those found to be in contempt of Court, this case demonstrates that where there has been an outright falsification of documents, which would ultimately mislead the Court and lead to an injustice, the Court will not hesitate to impose an order for imprisonment.
If you are asked to prepare a document and verify the accuracy of the contents of that document by signing a Statement of Truth, it is imperative to ensure the contents are factually correct and devoid of misstatements.