What has Jet2 Holidays Limited v Hughes and Hughes taught us about false witness statements?
The decision of Jet2 Holidays Limited v Hughes and Hughes  EWCA Civ 1858 has confirmed that the High Court has jurisdiction to commit for contempt of Court when false witness statements are made under a pre-action protocol, even in circumstances where proceedings were never issued.
Hughes and Hughes had made a claim for holiday sickness against Jet2 Holidays. Following the personal injury pre-action protocol (which was relevant to this claim), Hughes and Hughes submitted their witness statements both of which contained a signed statement of truth.
However, Jet2 Holidays discovered various social media posts which they felt contradicted those statements. As a result, the Hughes’ claims were therefore rejected and they never issued proceedings.
Instead – and somewhat unusually – Jet2 decided they’d bring committal proceedings against Hughes and Hughes. In response, Hughes and Hughes filed new witness statements stating that their previous witness statements were accurate.
Initially, it was believed the Court did not have jurisdiction to find contempt based on the initial witness statements. This was because a statement of truth is concerned with a statement which is made and presented to the Court within the meaning of CPR 32.14 concerning witness statements.
Jet2 appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal found that the Court actually does have inherent power to commit for contempt even if an act was carried out before proceedings have begun (Attorney-General v Newspaper Publishing Plc). In these particular circumstances, it was clear that Hughes and Hughes had set out their claims in supposed compliance with the relevant pre-action protocol and that their statements were verified by a statement of truth.
Jet2 was therefore given the impression that the claims had greater weight than might have otherwise been the case.
The second set of witness statements filed by Hughes and Hughes confirming their initial statements were accurate only compounded Hughes and Hughes’ actions and the Court confirmed that Hughes and Hughes’ decision not to issue proceedings did not detract from the fact their original statements contained false information.
This decision illustrates the growing integration between the pre-action protocols and the civil procedure rules. Although the Court of Appeal did not address whether other pre-litigation documents are capable of contempt, parties should be very mindful of making false statements, whether within a formal witness statement or otherwise, even if they do not intend to issue proceedings.
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