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Paul Higgins successful in landmark Court of Appeal decision concerning jurisdiction of High Court to commit even if no claim for damages is issued

Jet2 Holidays Limited v Hughes & Hughes [2019] EWCA Civ 1858 is a landmark decision of the Court of Appeal confirming the High Court’s jurisdiction to commit for contempt of court if false statements of truth are made by a potential claimant even though no claim for damages is ever issued.

The Respondents took a package holiday with the Appellant in 2016. Some months later they intimated claims for damages for alleged holiday sickness and served witness statements dated 12 April 2017 setting out details of their sickness and losses. These statements were endorsed with statements of truth.

The Appellant subsequently obtained social media material that it believed undermined the claims, which were promptly rejected. No claims for damages were ever issued.

The Appellant sought permission to commence committal proceedings. HHJ Godsmark Q.C., sitting as a Deputy HCJ, granted permission by consent and listed the committal proceedings for a CMC and final hearing in October and December 2018 respectively.

The CMC was listed before a different judge – HHJ Robert Owen Q.C. – who was concerned that the High Court might not have jurisdiction to commit because no proceedings had ever been issued. The Judge timetabled an exchange of skeletons and reserved the question of jurisdiction to himself.

At the subsequent hearing HHJ Robert Owen Q.C held that the High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the committal proceedings and struck them out.

The appeal from that decision was heard by a strong Court of Appeal – the Master of the Rolls, Hamblen LJ (soon to be a Justice of the Supreme Court) and Flaux LJ. It was held unanimously that the High Court did have jurisdiction to commit for contempt of court even though no claim for damages had been issued. It was sufficient that the statements had been served during a pre-action protocol phase:

36.    A dishonest witness statement served in purported compliance with a PAP is capable of interfering with the due administration of justice for the purposes of engaging the jurisdiction to commit for contempt because PAPs are now an integral and highly important part of litigation architecture…

45.  …we consider, contrary to the view of Judge Owen, that there was a close connection between the original witness statements made by the respondents and the administration of justice and that, if those witness statements were false, as appears strongly to be the case, they interfered with the administration of justice’.

This is a remarkable decision that on one view significantly enlarges the reach of the High Court in this area. Those acting for claimants (and indeed any potential party) will need to take care to ensure that any documents served pre-proceedings that are endorsed by statements of truth contain truthful evidence. Appropriate warnings should be given. If the documents contain false material then contempt of court proceedings may be available, even if no claim for damages is subsequently issued.

The Court of Appeal ordered the Respondents to pay Jet2’s costs of both the appeal and below.

Paul Higgins was instructed by Alex Wilkinson of Horwich Farrelly solicitors, on behalf of Jet2 Holidays Limited.

View the judgment here.



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