ALL THE WITNESSES SAY EXACTLY THE SAME THING 10 YEARS AFTER THE EVENT: DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE (AND NOT BELIEVED)

In Patel -v- Patel [2017] Andrew Simmonds QC (sitting as a judge of the High Court) was considering the credibility of witnesses.  The case is an interesting read in that it sets out detail of some of the cross-examination.  It is another case where the marked similarity of the witness evidence was a contributory factor in assessing its credibility.

THE CASE

The action concerned the validity of a will made in 2005. The claimant asserted that the will was valid, the defendant that it was forged. Much rested on the credibility of witnesses.

THE COMMENTS IN RELATION TO WITNESS CREDIBILITY

Much of the judgment is an assessment of witness credibility, and an interesting read on that topic. The judge considered, in particular, the striking amount of detail in the witness evidence given in support of the claimant.

  1. My remaining concern with Nirja’s evidence is one that applies equally to all four witnesses on Girish’s side. The degree of minute detail which they purported to remember about the events of 23 June 2005 was, to my mind, quite incredible. Each of Ranjanbala, Jayshree and Nirja were giving evidence about an event which supposedly occurred ten years before they were first asked to provide a witness statement and it was an event of no personal significance to any of them. Even Girish said he thought the Will was unnecessary and he instantly forgot all about it until Christmas 2014, despite the Deceased’s death in 2011. In those circumstances, I would have expected the witnesses to have, at best, a vague and outline recollection of what had occurred. Yet, one or more of them purported to remember (a) exactly who stood or sat where in the office at Gorst Road; (b) what day of the week it was; (c) who drank tea and who didn’t and when; (d) which pen each of them used to sign and what the Deceased did with her pen after signing; (e) that Jayshree asked what the date was and was told by Nirja (although neither mentioned this in their witness statements); (f) what colour sari the Deceased was wearing; and (g) what the Deceased had to eat after the shopping trip. This did not, in my judgment, have the ring of truth.”

THE RESULT

The claimant’s action failed.

COMMENT

The issues of credibility when witnesses all agree with each other to a large extent was considered in an earlier post

OTHER EXAMPLES IN THE CASE LAW

In Wake -v- Johnson [2015] EWHC 276(QB) HH Judge Collender QC (Sitting as Judge of the High Court) heard evidence from members of the claimant’s family who gave “supportive evidence”. The similarities were so marked that the defendant’s counsel actually drew up a graph to show the same phrases being used.

“Various families members and friends gave supportive evidence
  1. However, there is considerable similarity between the terms of much of the evidence of Ethan’s parents and the supporting family and friends.
  2. Mr McCullough QC has prepared a comparison in tabular form that sets out these similarities and I reproduce that in this judgment.
David Hood
recall of what he overheard MsHastie telling the out of hours service
Ms Hastie recall of what she told Greta Jones
Greta Jones recall of symptoms relayed by Ms Hastie
Karen Jones recall of what Greta Jones told her Ms Hastie had said
1
“lethargy”
“being listless”
Listless
2
“high temperature”
“high temperature”
“high temperature”
“high temperature”
3
“history of severe headaches”
“severe headache for two days”
“intense headache for two days”
“intense headache for two days”
4
“crying and screaming”
“crying and screaming”
“crying and screaming”
“crying and screaming”
5
“being off his food”
“being off his food”
“and the last solid food he had had was on the morning of 31st December when he had a small amount of Weetabix”
“not eating”
“not eating”
6
“unable to drink very much”
“unable to drink”
“not … drinking”
“not … drinking”
7
“vomiting bile”
“vomiting Calpol and bile”
“vomiting bile”
“vomiting bile”
8
“pale”
“pale looking”
“pale looking”
“pale looking”
9
“not being himself”
“not being himself”
“not being himself”
“not being himself”
  1. A difficulty with much of the corroborative evidence is that the substance of those similarities relate to symptoms not recorded (e.g. bile) or not recorded in the same terms (eating) in the contemporaneous medical records. Mrs Brooks mentioned bile for the first time in her oral evidence. She had been the only one of the seven witnesses not to mention bile in their witness statements. There is no mention in any contemporaneous record of Ethan vomiting bile nor was it mentioned by Mr Wake in his original or reiterated letters of complaints, to which reference has already been made.”

IDENTICAL WITNESS STATEMENTS ARE JUST SUSPICIOUS

In AA -v- London Borough of Southwark [2014] EWHC 500 QB the deputy judge considered three statements given in the course of the litigation. Unanimity in the witness statements did not help.

 “Three short and anodyne statements were produced in very similar terms that gave very similar but inaccurate accounts of the eviction. They even look as if they were produced on the same computer and printer and were drafted in unison. One of these statements is dated 31 May 2013.Thus, the agreed intention of all three officers appears to have been to co-ordinate an attempted cover-up of what happened when they each gave evidence to the Matthews investigation.”

RELATED POSTS

On taking witness statements

On witness credibility generally