Parties making false statements in pre-action witness statements to face proceedings for contempt of court
18 November 2019
In a case relating to a package holiday which will serve as a warning to anyone considering fabricating facts to support a letter of claim, the Court of Appeal has ruled that parties making false statements in pre-action witness statements (potentially exposed as being untrue by the witnesses’ own social media posts) can face proceedings for contempt of court.
Mr and Mrs Hughes went on a package holiday booked with Jet 2. Upon their return from their holiday, they instructed solicitors to write to Jet 2 threatening a claim for damages for holiday sickness under the Package Tour Regulations 1992 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
In witness statements given by Mr and Mrs Hughes, which were sent to Jet 2 with the letter of claim, Mr and Mrs Hughes made various allegations about undercooked food and lack of hygiene at the hotel, and illnesses that they and their children allegedly suffered whilst on holiday.
When social media posts come back to bite
Following receipt of the letter of claim and witness statements, Jet 2 found various images and comments posted by Mr and Mrs Hughes on social media during their holiday, including Facebook posts, a YouTube video and two Twitter posts, which indicated that they and their children were physically well during the holiday and had an enjoyable time while staying at the hotel. Jet 2 accordingly rejected Mr and Mrs Hughes’ claims, and Mr and Mrs Hughes did not commence proceedings against Jet 2.
Permission to start committal proceedings
Jet 2, however, did not leave matters there and sought the court’s permission to commence committal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Hughes for contempt of court, on the basis that they had made false statements, verified by statements of truth, in the witness statements served with the letter before claim.
The judge at first instance refused Jet 2’s application on the basis that Mr and Mrs Hughes’ statements were not made in witness statements that were part of court proceedings (as Mr and Mrs Hughes had chosen not to commence proceedings). Jet 2 appealed this decision.
An act may be a contempt of court - even before proceedings have begun
The Court of Appeal unanimously held that a dishonest witness statement purportedly served in compliance with a pre-action protocol is capable of interfering with the administration of justice for the purposes of engaging the jurisdiction to commit for contempt – even if the witness statement was made in connection with proceedings that were never, in fact, ultimately commenced. Jet 2 is therefore free to commence committal proceedings against Mr and Mrs Hughes.
As was no doubt Jet 2’s intention, this case will serve as a stark warning to anyone thinking of fabricating facts to support a letter of claim sent in order to try and secure a settlement payment. It also serves as a useful reminder of the value of checking claimants’ social media postings for incriminating evidence, and the persuasiveness of such evidence.
You can read the full judgment in Jet 2 Holidays Ltd v Hughes and another  EWCA Civ 1858 here