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The importance of the Statement of Truth – a cautionary tale

Bickerdyke v Simkus & Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Plc
Leeds County Court

Statements of Truth have been with us now for nearly 20 years and they play an essential role in litigation, featuring on all key documents that are signed by the parties to an action. Signing a Statement of Truth confirms that the content of the document is true to the best of the knowledge or belief of the person signing the Statement. In some instances, a Statement of Truth can be signed by the solicitor representing the party in question, but in those instances, the solicitor is then confirming the content of the document to be true.

The penalties for falsely signing a Statement of Truth can be harsh, but they serve to underline the significance of the act of signing the Statement. In the case of Bickerdyke v Simkus & Royal & Sun Alliance (2015), a failure to consider the significance of signing a Statement of Truth, led to the court striking out a head of claim worth in excess of £100,000. Stephen Gilroy and DWF advocate Farrah Sbaiti report on what led to the Judge taking this action.

Facts

Between issue and service of the claim form, JY sought to amend the claim form pursuant to CPR r.17.1, so as to include the hire claim, increasing the pleaded value of the claim to £150,000. A defence was lodged and the parties filed directions questionnaires. The court ordered JY to file a witness statement setting out the basis on which the value of the claim had increased between August and December 2014. 

At the directions hearing on 4 June, District Judge Goldberg considered the statement filed by JY and the explanation provided for the increase in the value of the claim, namely that the Claimant had not been equipped with the necessary funds at the time that the claim form was issued, to issue the claim at its full value. With limitation for the injury claim fast approaching, JY had opted to issue the claim for a lower sum, paying a lower court fee. In the four month period between issue and service, the Claimant had been able to raise the funds to be able to pay an additional court fee of £1035, then serving an amended claim form that increased the value of the claim, taking into account the hire claim. 

Whilst it was quite clear that the Claimant could not afford to pay the relevant court fee for the totality of her claim, the judge was concerned that JY had known about the credit hire claim at the time that the claim form had been issued and yet he had signed the Statement of Truth on behalf of the Claimant confirming the value of the claim at between £1,000 to £1,500, when JY must have known that valuation not be true.  The Judge commented that JY was an Officer of the Court and that his conduct had apparently been dishonest.

DWF advocate Farrah Sbaiti, representing RSA referred to the authorities of Nomura International Plc –v- Granada Group Limited [2008] and Pickthall –v- Hill Dickinson LLP [2009] EWCA Civ 549 which supported the contention that:

  • it was an abuse to exclude the hire charges when the claim form was initially issued; and

  • it was an abuse to sign a Statement of Truth, confirming the value of the claim at no more than £1,500, when there was a claim for credit hire “in the background” worth more than £100,000

During the course of the hearing, reference was also made to Page & Anor v Hewetts Solicitors & Anor [2013] EWHC 2845 (Ch) (20 September 2013) and Clarke v Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd [2002] 1 W.L.R 1731 the latter being authority that one of the purposes of the Statement of Truth is to eliminate claims being advanced, where a party has no honest belief in those claims and to discourage cases being pleaded that were unsupported by the evidence and put forward in the hope that subsequent developments in the action then justify that valuation.

Findings

Sitting in Leeds County Court, District Judge Goldberg held:

  • The initial Statement of Truth on the original pleadings was one which was made when the solicitor knew that the value and extent of the Claimant’s claim was actually much more than was being attested to.

  • By issuing proceedings in the way that they did, JY effectively extended the limitation period and that was an abuse of process. 

  • The Judge gave consideration to striking out the entire claim but concluded that would be unduly harsh, bearing in mind the “genuine” element of the claim, the claim for personal injury.

  • Instead the Judge set aside the amendment to the claim form, so that the value of the claim was limited to £1,500 (the original value of the pleaded claim), effectively meaning that the Claimant could not recover the credit hire claim within the action.

  • The matter was allocated to the fast track and standard directions were applied.

Subsequently the Second Defendant made a Part 36 offer of £1550 in global settlement of the claim which was accepted.

Commentary

It is clear from the Judge’s approach in this case that the courts take a dim view of this kind of practice. District Judge Goldberg alluded to seeing the practice before in Leeds County Court, to the extent that a standard order was issued in those cases where the value of the claim increased between issue and service of the claim form, ordering a statement to be filed in advance of the directions hearing, setting out the reasons for the increase in value. Where there was no good reason for the increase, the amendment would be disallowed.

Any person or officer of the court who signs a statement of truth on a claim form in circumstances where they know that the full value of the claim has not been pleaded risks a finding that their conduct was dishonest and the serious consequences that may flow from such a finding.

Notwithstanding those consequences, it seems to us that this practice could become more prevalent, given the increase in court fees back in March, particularly as some firms may not have the available capital or are simply unwilling to cover the issue fee from their office account. If this practice does become more widespread, then it may be necessary for other courts to follow Leeds County Court’s lead.

As a matter of interest, where a de novo claim is brought, the case of Johnson v Gore Wood & Co (No 1) [2002] 2 AC. 1 HL would apply, when considering whether the second action could be deemed to be “an abuse”. This case stated that a broad, merits based approach should be adopted, taking account of all the public and private interests involved and all the facts of the case. Further guidance on the application of this authority was handed down in the Court of Appeal case of Aldi Stores Ltd v WSP Group Plc [2008] 1 W.L.R. 748. The events leading up to the strike out of the credit hire claim and the comments made by District Judge Goldberg as to conduct would mean that any de novo claim for the credit hire charges by Bickerdyke would probably fail.

Contact

For more information please contact Stephen Gilroy, Associate on 0151 907 3331 or Farrah Sbaiti, Senior Solicitor on 0161 604 1641.

By Stephen Gilroy and Farrah Sbaiti

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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