Important amendments to witness statements and statements of truth
It’s there in black and white – new changes to statement of truth wording couldn’t be clearer
The 113th update to Practice Direction Amendments brought about important and significant changes to witness statements and statements of truth for both solicitors and their respective clients.
These changes came into force from 6 April 2020 (with immediate effect) and anyone who drafts or signs documents verified by a statement of truth ought to take notice; the new wording stipulates the consequences for anyone falsely signing any such documents.
Statements of truth
Amendments to Practice Direction 22 have now brought about new wording for the statement of truth, which verifies a statement of case, a response, an application notice or a notice of objection, which now reads as follows:
‘[I believe][the (claimant or as may be) believes] that the facts stated in this [name 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.’
Similarly, statements of truth verifying a witness statement are as follows:
‘I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement 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.’
Of course, as all practitioners will already know, the implications for falsely signing a statement of truth have always been grave and can trigger proceedings for contempt of court. Conveying the importance that comes with signing a statement of truth is part of our role as responsible legal representatives (and should not be underestimated). However, should this message ever get lost when relaying it to clients, the new amended wording could not make it clearer that proceedings for contempt of court could be commenced against them should any false statements be present in the document. Indeed, it should encourage even the most relaxed of clients to clarify every minor query they may have regarding the contents of a document before signing. These amendments now leave little room for manoeuvre, should issues arise later down the line with any documents verified by a statement of truth.
Witness statements – the importance of the witness’s own words and language
Any practitioner who has been faced with the challenge of taking a witness statement from a witness whose first language is not their own, will be grateful for this clearer guidance on how to proceed.
Of course, any witness statement must always be drafted in the witness’s own words. However, the update to Practice Direction 32 now stipulates that the witness statement “must in any event be drafted in their own language”.
The update also makes clear that the statement of truth verifying a witness statement must be in the same language as the witness statement itself. In addition, an interpreter is required to explain the effect of a statement of truth to the witness, before a legal representative signs a statement of truth on their client’s behalf.
As such, where necessary, it would be prudent to clarify with a client whether English is their first language, so that arrangements for the preparation of documents, including witness statements, can be made to facilitate the client’s own language.
Practice Direction 32 para 23.2 now reflects the default position of witness statements to be filed in the witness’s own language:
Where a witness statement is in a foreign language:
(a) the party wishing to rely on it must
(i) have it translated; and
(ii) file the foreign language witness statement with the court; and
(b) the translator must sign the original statement and must certify that the translation is accurate.
Statements of truth – new requirements
Similarly, two new provisions will be added to Practice Direction 22 as follows:
2.4 – The statement of truth must be in the witness’s own language.
2.5 – A statement of truth must be dated with the date on which it was signed.
As such, as a practitioner it is important to flag to a client the need for them to include the date when signing the statement of truth in their own language (albeit most practitioners will already have included such dates as good practice).
Finally, in terms of the format of a witness statement, the update provides for further information to be contained within witness statements. This is as follows:
- The heading to the witness statement must contain the date of any translation;
- The body of the witness statement must not only, if practicable, be drafted in the individual’s own words but ‘must in any event be drafted in their own language’; and
- The body must also state ‘the process by which it has been prepared, for example, face-to-face, over the telephone and/or through an interpreter’.
These small but significant amendments to the Practice Direction will provide further clarity and certainty for both practitioners and their clients. It will also serve as a stark reminder for all as to the potential implications for verifying a document knowing that it contains false information.
It remains to be seen whether these developments will have any impact on the success of future proceedings for contempt of court in such instances. Practitioners will no doubt be keeping a close eye on future cases.