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Witness Statements – their purpose & strike out of all/part

Andrew Lane looks at a recent ruling that set out the principles and law involved when seeking to strike out all or parts of witness statement.

I wrote about the exclusion of all or part of a witness statement in an earlier blog in August 2018. Earlier today (21 April 2022) Mrs Justice Steyn DBE handed down judgment on a series of pre-trial applications in Rebekah Vardy v Coleen Rooney [2022] EWHC 946 (QB).

Those applications included one each by the claimant and defendant seeking to strike out parts of each other’s statement. The result of these applications is unimportant for the purposes of this blog, and I’d rather highlight and emphasise the principles and law applied.

The judge began by setting out the relevant parts of the CPR:

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“93. CPR 32.1 provides, so far as material:
“The court may control the evidence by giving directions as to—
(a) the issues on which it requires evidence;
(b) the nature of the evidence which it requires to decide those issues; and
(c) the way in which the evidence is to be placed before the court.
(2) The court may use its power under this rule to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible.”

94. CPR 32.4(1) provides:

“A witness statement is a written statement signed by a person which contains the evidence which that person would be allowed to give orally.””

She then went on to consider paragraph 10.60 of the Queen’s Bench Guide 2022:

“1. A witness statement must contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on the issues it covers;

2. Those issues should consist only of the issues on which the party serving the witness statement wishes that witness to give evidence in chief and should not include commentary on the trial bundle or other matters which may arise during the trial or may have arisen during the proceedings;

3. A witness statement should be as concise as the circumstances allow; inadmissible or irrelevant material should not be included. An application may be made by an opposing party to strike out inadmissible or irrelevant material. If a party does object to the contents of a witness statement, they should notify the other party of their objection within 28 days after service of the statement and the parties should seek to resolve the matter. Otherwise an application should be made to the court for direction; …” (Emphasis added.)”

That was then followed, from paragraphs 96 to 99 of the Judgment, by the all important analysis of the relevant case-law which I think it worth setting out in the words of the Judge:

(1) As Sedley LJ observed in William v Wandsworth LBC [2006] EWCA Civ 535 at [80], “witness statements are a proper vehicle for relevant and admissible evidence going to the issue before the court, and for nothing else. Argument is for advocates. Innuendo has no place at all.”

(2) In JD Wetherspoon plc v Harris (Practice Note) [2013] 1 WLR 3296 Sir Terence Etherton C heard, amongst other matters, an application to strike out the majority of a witness statement made by Mr Goldberger on behalf of the second to fourth defendants. He held:

“33. The vast majority of Mr Goldberger’s witness statement contains a recitation of facts based on the documents, commentary on those documents, argument, submissions and expressions of opinion, particularly on aspects of the commercial property market. In all those respects Mr Goldberger’s witness statement is an abuse. The abusive parts should be struck out.

39. Mr Goldberger would not be allowed at trial to give oral evidence which merely recites the relevant events, of which he does not have direct knowledge, by reference to documents he has read. Nor would he be permitted at trial to advance arguments and make submissions which might be expected of an advocate rather than a witness of fact. These points are made clear in paragraph 7 of Appendix 9 to the Chancery Guide 7th ed (2013), which is as follows:

“A witness statement should simply cover those issues, but only those issues, on which the party serving the statement wishes that witness to give evidence in chief. Thus it is not, for example, the function of a witness statement to provide a commentary on the documents in the trial bundle, nor to set out quotations from such documents, nor to engage in matters of argument. Witness statements should not deal with other matters merely because they may arise in the course of the trial.”

41 I recognise, of course, that these rules as to witness statements and their contents are not rigid statutes. It is conceivable that in particular circumstances they may properly be relaxed in order to achieve the overriding objective in CPR r 1 of dealing with cases justly. I can see no good reason, however, why they should not apply to Mr Goldberger’s witness statement in the present proceedings.” (Emphasis added.)

(3) In Aven v Orbis [2020] EWHC 474 (QB) Warby J observed at [17] that the additional points made in the passage from the Chancery Guide cited by the Chancellor in JD Wetherspoon at [39], that it is not the function of a witness statement to set out quotations from documents in the trial bundle nor to engage in matters of argument, are not specific to the Chancery Division. At [13], Warby J observed that the Chancellor, in JD Wetherspoon

“evidently accepted the submission for the claimant, that the claimant would be placed in difficulty by such a statement because it would be difficult for counsel to decide how much of, and precisely which parts of, the witness statement should be the subject of cross-examination. I would respectfully accept and adopt that point. I would add that a proper separation between evidence and argument, fact and opinion, is important for other participants in or observers of the judicial process. The task of the Judge is complicated if these distinct matters are confused or intertwined, in a witness statement. Muddling up these separate elements of the process will also tend to make proceedings harder for observers to follow, and for reporters to explain. For all these reasons, it is important that documents presented to the Court should focus on the functions they are meant to perform, and not stray into other domains.”

(4) In Wilkinson v West Coast Capital [2005] EWHC 1606 (Ch) Mann J considered an application, at a pre-trial review, to strike out paragraphs in witness statements on the grounds of obvious irrelevance and/or disproportionality. He observed at [5]:

“… However, desirable though the power to control evidence obviously is, particular care must in my view be taken when it is sought to exercise the power before a trial. It is noteworthy that the two cases which I have referred to above were both cases in which the issues as to evidence arose during the course of trials. By the time that the issue arises in that context, the judge is likely to have a much fuller overall picture of the issues in the case and of the evidence which is going to be adduced in support of them. In a large number of cases, he or she is likely to be in a better position to make judgments which turn on the real value of the line of evidence in question and its proportionality, and in very many cases its admissibility. A court which is asked to approach these questions at the interlocutory stage is much less likely to have that picture, and should be that much more careful in forming a view that the evidence is going to be irrelevant, or if relevant, unhelpful and/or disproportionate. One must also bear in mind the extent to which it is desirable to consider these matters at all at an interlocutory stage. One must be on one’s guard, in applications such as this, not to allow case management in relation to witness statements to give rise to significant time− and cost−wasting applications; those should not be encouraged. In my view, I should only strike out the parts of the witness statements which I am currently considering if it is quite plain to me that, no matter how the proceedings look at trial, the evidence will never appear to be either relevant or, if relevant, will never be sufficiently helpful to make it right to allow the party in question to adduce it. With evidence of this nature, that is likely to be quite a heavy burden.”

Andrew Lane is a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers. This article first appeared on the set’s Social Housing Fraud blog.

https://cornerstoneonsocialhousingfraud.com/2022/04/21/witness-statements-their-purpose-strike-out-of-all-part/

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