The High Court has given new guidance on the provisions of fundamental dishonesty law through a judgment in which a claimant wrongly claimed for special damages in his otherwise legitimate claim.
In London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (in Liquidation) v Sinfield, Mr Justice Julian Knowles ruled that a volunteer injured while working at the 2012 Olympics was fundamentally dishonest in exaggerating the costs of gardening help following his accident.
LOCOG, the London Organisation Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, had challenged a lower court’s ruling that the claimant, Haydn Sinfield, had not damaged the entire claim through dishonesty in one particular area.
Knowles insisted that a claimant should be found to be fundamentally dishonest if the defendant could prove ‘on a balance of probabilities’ that they had acted dishonestly in relation to the primary or related claim. This dishonesty was such that has ‘substantially affected the presentation of his case, either in respects of liability or quantum, in a way which potentially adversely affected the defendant in a significant way’.
Knowles said the judge in the first instance was ‘plainly wrong’ not to see two elements of the written schedule as dishonest.
The fact that the greater part of the claim may have been genuine was 'neither here nor there' where the court finds fundamental dishonesty, he added.
Knowles added: ‘The judge made no findings capable of supporting a conclusion that if the whole claim was dismissed it would result in substantial injustice.’
The court heard Sinfield’s claim, made in a statement of truth on the preliminary schedule, that he spent thousands of pounds from employing a gardener to manage his two-acre garden after the accident.
Following trial before Mr Recorder Widdup in August 2017, the judge said he needed ‘evidence of weight’ before he could find dishonesty: in the event he said the proper inference was that Sinfield was ‘muddled, confused and careless’ about the gardening section of the claim but that it did not ‘contaminate’ the entire claim.
Widdup gave judgment for Sinfield in the sum of almost £27,000 and ordered LOCOG to pay his costs up to 31 December 2016, and 50% of his costs thereafter.
This decision was overturned and the claim for damages dismissed under section 57 of the 2015 Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
Roger Jones, partner at international firm Kennedys, which acted for insurer Aviva in defending the claim, said the High Court had provided clear guidance on how the test in section 57 works. ‘After various lower court rulings on fundamental dishonesty, it was important to have a binding decision that enables paying parties to take on those who bring dishonest claims,' he said. 'This is vital in the fight against fraud, but honest claimants have nothing to worry about.’