As part of the regular updates made to the Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (CPR), there was recently a significant change made to the wording used for statements of truth. This month we will look at why statements of truth are important and explain what has changed.
Why are statements of truth important?
Statements of truth are used in virtually all statements of case. If you have studied ILSPA’s Legal Secretaries Diploma, you will remember that a statement of case includes any document that makes up part of the “story” of your case. So if you are making a claim, the claim form you submit must include a signed statement of truth. If you are defending a claim, then your defence must be verified by a signed statement. Virtually every document submitted to court that helps support your version of events (e.g. witness statements, schedules and disclosure lists) relies on the use of a statement to assure the court that the details are true.
District Judge Neil Hickman was certainly a fan of the statement of truth and went as far as suggesting that it was probably the most significant innovation in the CPR. The fact that the statement is simple and straightforward may be one reason why DJ Hickman thought they were so important. It may also be because statements of truth stopped the practice of cases being put forward where parties did not believe in the truthfulness of their case. It was a common practice before the statement was introduced for a lawyer to deliberately keep all options open for as long as possible. In a defence, for example, the lawyer could plead contradictory claims or claims which were unsupported by any evidence or were merely speculation or invention.
What has changed
It is no longer sufficient for a person to simply confirm that the facts are true. The new wording for a statement of truth now explicitly highlights what will happen if a false statement is made. With statements of case, the following wording must be used:
“[I believe] [The claimant believes] that the facts stated in this [name of document being verified] are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.”
The new additional wording, highlighted in bold, is intended to warn about the consequences of making a false statement.
If a witness statement is being verified, the same set of words is to be used but there is an additional requirement to how the witness statement was prepared, e.g. whether it was face-to-face, over the telephone and/or through an interpreter. It is also a requirement that the statement of truth is dated with the date on which it was signed and it must be in the witness's own language (with an interpretation attached). There are additional requirements where the witness cannot read English
Why the change?
Over the years, many judges have become increasingly concerned at a casual attitude that was sometimes shown towards the importance of statements of truth.
A false statement of truth would potentially amount to deliberately misleading the court, with serious consequences for the solicitor. As for the client, the consequences of making a false statement include being in contempt of court, which could result in a fine and/or imprisonment up to a maximum of two years.
It is perhaps not surprising that some practitioners fell into bad habits with the wording used for statements of truth being unchanged for 20 years. Now that the consequences are spelt out on the statement itself, this may focus both solicitors’ and clients’ minds on the risks. The amended wording applies to all statements made after the 6th April 2020.