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Don’t contact your solicitor whilst giving evidence!

Many of you will be aware of the phrase ‘contempt of court’ and know that it can have serious repercussions for the offender, including in some extreme cases a spell in prison.

A recent case in the Oxford County Court has not only highlighted the personal perils but also serves as a warning that breaching a court order can lead to an entire case being dismissed – and all for talking to your solicitor and others about your case!

If a matter goes to court for trial or a hearing then whenever a party to proceedings, or a witness, is to give evidence they first affirm or are ‘sworn in’ confirming that they will ‘…tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…’.  One of the reasons for this is that if they subsequently ’lie’ or mislead then they may be found to be in contempt of court.

There is also an additional, less well known, way that contempt of court can be committed. Often due to the length of trials, or the running schedule, a person begins their evidence but cannot finish it in the same day. Despite the court day ending, the individual is still ‘in purdah’ until their evidence is concluded and they are released, meaning that they should not discuss their case or evidence with anyone (including their solicitor or barrister). If they do then they will be in contempt.

In April this year, Her Honour Judge Clarke went further by dismissing an entire claim following a finding of contempt. The Claimant, who was ‘in purdah’ and who had additionally been clearly orally ordered by the judge not to communicate with their solicitors or any related party was found to have sent emails to their solicitor and barrister overnight.

The judge found that the Claimant was in contempt but went on to explain that, in themselves, these emails would not have resulted in a dismissal of the claim because she was satisfied that none of the recipients of the email had actually opened or read them.  What lead to the dismissal of the claim was that when the claimant was subsequently examined as a witness and asked why he wanted to change his position on evidence he had given the previous day, he explained it was because he had spoken overnight to a person from a company related to the matter; the discussion had included issues of his evidence and the wider case.

The judge explained that this act meant she could not reliably identify, and cut away, the infected elements of the evidence.

For all witnesses and parties giving evidence, this case makes apparent that there are significant legal consequences for those failing to abide by the clear rules on evidence. If in doubt, individuals can ask the judge for clarification at court or from the legal representatives before they are sworn in, or affirm.

We often deal with cases involving a significant amount of witness evidence and so if you have any issue relating to witness evidence or a dispute in the civil courts then please do not hesitate to contact Simon Beasley in our Commercial Litigation team on 0207 288 4769 or email simonbeasley@boltburdon.co.uk.

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Simon Beasley

020 7288 4769
07387 099 596
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