21st April 2021
Tim Sharpe (instructed by Neville Sampson of DAC Beachcroft Claims Ltd) appeared on behalf of AXA in these High Court committal proceedings. The claim started life in the County Court, where Tim provided advice and drafted an Amended Defence to plead Fundamental Dishonesty when material was located that demonstrated that Mr Reid was in fact known to the allegedly independent witness (contrary to his assertions in his witness statement, signed with a statement of truth). Tim later appeared at the application hearing to gain permission to rely on that Amended Defence and subsequently advised on and drafted the proceedings in the High Court committal case.
Mr Reid admitted contempt and consented to permission being given to commence the committal proceedings. The hearing on 21st April 2021 was to determine the appropriate penalty for the admitted contempt. In her Judgment on that issue, Mrs Justice Eady said:
“As the claimant has observed, it is plain the defendant knew Mr Summers, and they were more than passing acquaintances. By his witness statement in the county court proceedings, however, the defendant falsely represented that Mr Summers was an independent witness to the collision, when he was not. This was, as the defendant now acknowledges, no mere slip; the defendant went as far as saying that the witness might have recognised him, but he had not seen the witness before (thereby attempting to head off the potential suspicion of the two being acquainted, the defendant having been a professional fighter, and Mr Summers claiming to be looking for a martial arts shop when he allegedly witnessed the collision).”
The court went on to consider the seriousness of the false statements, noting that “this is a case involving both a high level of culpability and significant harm” and observing:
“As the claimant has submitted, the contempt in this case amounts to a plain, deliberate, and dishonest attempt to interfere with the administration of justice in a material way. The lie told by the defendant was designed to set Mr Summers up in the eyes of the claimant insurance company, and the court, as someone upon whose evidence they could rely as being unconnected to the parties, offering an independent account of the circumstances of the collision. Inevitably, considerable weight is often given to such evidence (in particular where the parties themselves are at odds as to how a collision took place). That is true of a court, where a judge has to adjudicate between two diametrically opposed accounts, but will equally be the case of an insurer that adopts the entirely responsible approach that contested litigation should be the last resort. The false statement was designed to bolster the defendant’s chances of proving his claim on liability (or making the claimant insurer accept his version over that of their own insured, who did not have an independent witness), and thereby of recovering some or all of his claim for damages.”
The court determined that the starting point should be a custodial period of 4 months, but reduced this by 25% to reflect Mr Reid’s admission. The court noted all of his personal mitigation and reduced the period further to 8 weeks. The court however declined to suspend the period of committal, concluding:
“I have taken account of the hardship that will be suffered by the defendant’s family in reducing the term to the degree that I have but I would be failing in my duty to do justice more generally if I did not impose an immediate custodial sentence in this case.”
The full judgment can be viewed here.