The Court of Appeal has allowed a holiday company to bring contempt proceedings against two holiday-makers based on statements made before proceedings were even issued.
In Jet 2 Holidays Ltd v Hughes & Anor, three judges unanimously agreed that documents verified by a statement of truth, including allegedly false witness statements, could be the subject of committal for contempt. They held that position despite proceedings for substantive relief never being issued, after the claim had been challenged by the prospective defendant.
The original claimants, Karl and Laura Hughes, had alleged that while on holiday they contracted food poisoning as a result of eating contaminated food or drink or swimming in an insanitary pool.
Under cover of a letter from their lawyers, Jet 2 received a witness statement from each claimant in purported compliance with the personal injury claims pre-action protocol. Each witness statement contained a signed statement of truth.
The court heard that the original defendant rejected the claims and proceedings were not commenced, after Jet 2 found various social media postings during the holiday which indicated everyone was physically well during the holiday and had an enjoyable time.
Jet 2 then sought permission to start committal proceedings. The original claimants said that they intended to contest the claim for committal, stating that each of the comments in their witness statements was in fact true.
Sitting in the High Court, His Honour Judge Owen QC held there was no jurisdiction to find contempt on the basis of the original witness statements and that Jet 2’s application to amend the original claims to add new grounds of contempt be refused.
On appeal, master of the rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Lord Justice Hamblen and Lord Justice Flaux said the judge made an error of principle in refusing to permit the amendment, and that the court did have jurisdiction to hear the contempt proceedings based on the original witness statements.
The appeal judges said the Hughes’ conduct in making both the original statements, and then doubling down on those statements, satisfied the stringent requirements for contempt proceedings.
They added: ‘It is not necessary to issue new contempt proceedings every time there is a contempt in or relating to the same set of proceedings.’ The Jet 2 appeal was upheld and proceedings for committal can be brought.