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Tim Sharpe (instructed by Miles Cowan of Horwich Farrelly) represented Hastings Insurance on a committal application before HHJ Moloney QC, sitting as a Judge of the High Court in the Norwich District Registry, on 9th August 2017. The application for committal of the Claimant (Mr John Egner) was based on false statements made in document bearing statements of truth, namely his Claim Form, Particulars of Claim and Part 18 Replies.
In summary, Mr Egner’s van was damaged by a driver insured by Hastings, as a result of which that individual was prosecuted for causing criminal damage. Some two years after this incident, Mr Egner presented a claim to Hastings for back injuries allegedly sustained by him in that incident. His claim was subsequently issued, and in his Claim Form and Particulars of Claim he claimed to have been the driver of the van at the time it was struck and that as a result he sustained injuries (as also set out in detail in a medical report). He further set out his case on how he was injured by way of Part 18 Replies, claiming that he was jolted in his seat and that the pain was so much that he had to take time off work as he could not lift or even walk. Hastings contended that the claim was dishonest and in support of the contention that Mr Egner was not in fact in the van at the material time, relied on statements that Mr Egner himself and his then partner had provided to the police in connection with the prosecution of the insured driver, in which they confirmed they had witnessed the criminal damage take place from the pavement. The county court claim was transferred to the High Court and ultimately struck out. Upon the court granting the insurer’s application for permission to bring proceedings for contempt, Mr Egner admitted his contempt.
At the hearing on 9th August 2017, the court committed Mr Egner to an immediate period of custody of 8 weeks, reduced from 12 weeks to reflect his admission. He was also ordered to pay £5,000 towards the costs of the original action and a further £9,000 towards the costs of the committal proceedings.
In the course of judgement, HHJ Moloney QC noted that dishonest but low value “whiplash” claims cost the insurance industry immense legal costs and that the public pays more in premiums. The court noted that the background to the claim (a cold call) was typical of the problem, and precisely the type of case to which the policy explained by Moses LJ in South Wales Fire & Rescue v Smith  EWHC 1749 (Admin) applies, namely that those who make such false claims should expect to go to prison and that there is no other way to underline the gravity of such conduct, or to deter those tempted to make such claims. The court considered that on the facts of the case, to suspend the sentence would detract from the policy of deterrence.