"SECOND HAND" SIGNATURES WILL NOT DO -"PRE-SIGNING" THE STATEMENT OF TRUTH? – NOT A GOOD IDEA
This blog has covered the importance of the statement of truth on many occasions. However the issues revealed in the Solicitors Disciplinary hearing in SRA -v- Jackson reveals a remarkably insouciant approach to the statement of truth.
The respondent is a solicitor. It was alleged that he had served an amended Particulars of Claim in a case using “old” signatures copied from the previous Particulars. This had led to the action being struck out on the grounds that the Particulars had not been properly signed. The earlier Particulars had been sent in draft to the defendant. The later Particulars included only two claimants and had some amendments. The Statement of Truth had the old date on and the page had been manually altered to change the status of the claimants. The old signatures were being “re-used”.
THE INTERCHANGE WITH THE DISTRICT JUDGE AT THE APPLICATION TO STRIKE OUT THE ACTION
19. The defendant’s application to strike out claimant’s claim was heard on 15 May 2014. The claim was struck out and the claimants were ordered to pay the defendant’s costs of the matter to date, including the strike-out hearing. During the hearing the Respondent told the court that it was “common practice” to go out and see clients, arrange witness statements to be taken, arrange for a Statement of Truth to be signed by the clients and then at a later date to have the Particulars of Claim approved utilising the pre-signed Statement of Truth rather than attending again upon the clients to re-sign the documents in their presence. During questioning by the District Judge the Respondent admitted that he had amended Statement of Truth in the following exchange:
“THE DISTRICT JUDGE: are you accepting that they never signed them again? They signed them on the first date and you…
MR JACKSON: that is correct sir. THE DISTRICT JUDGE:… Effectively altered them?
MR JACKSON: it is quite common practice to obtain a blank signature page, sir, from clients that are remote. You see them on the first occasion, you verify their identity and obtain a blank signature. Obviously, before any witness statements or proceedings would be served, you would have to obtain their instructions and confirm that what they were signing is correct. It is quite common for signatures to be taken at an early stage and used at a later stage”.
7 20. The Respondent claimed that he had obtained his clients’ consent to make the changes to the Particulars of Claim and they had approved the amended Particulars. The Firm had provided copies of correspondence stored on the server including letters from the Respondent to the claimants providing them with the amended Particulars of Claim and asking them to “complete and sign and return to us…”. There was no explanation in that letter of the changes made to that document nor was any advice given as to the importance of ensuring that it was factually correct. In addition the Statement of Truth page was missing from the copy provided to the claimants. During the hearing the Respondent provided the court with a number of documents which the District Judge was not satisfied provided sufficient evidence that either claimant had agreed the new Particulars of Claim.”
[It is fair to say that the Tribunal’s findings were based on this one case and not on any “general practice” of signature collection]
POINTS RAISED IN CROSS-EXAMINATION
“31. In cross-examination the Respondent confirmed that he was aware of the SRA Principles and that he was aware that a Statement of Truth attaching to a document was important to the administration of justice.
32. It was put to the Respondent that anybody receiving the document that he had provided would think that it was that version that had been read and verified on 28 September 2012. The Respondent agreed that this was possibly the case. This included the court. The Respondent was asked whether he believed this to be a proper practice and he confirmed that he regarded it as a perfectly proper practice in 9 accordance with Part 17.1 of the CPR. The Respondent was asked why, in that case, he had asked the clients to sign the amended Particulars of Claim. The Respondent explained that he wanted to make sure that they approved the amended version”
THE TRIBUNAL’S FINDINGS IN RELATION TO THE STATEMENT OF TRUTH
“37.2 The Tribunal did not accept that Practice Direction 17 (1.4) applied by analogy to a claim that had not been issued. Part 17 was applicable to claims that had been issued and addressed the issue of amendments in those circumstances. Even if the Respondent had discussed the content of the revised Particulars of Claim with his clients, for which there was no compelling evidence, the proper procedure was to 10 either get them to sign a new Statement of Truth and Particulars of Claim, which he had attempted to do, or sign it himself with a statement confirming that he was authorised to do so. The Tribunal noted that the Respondent had been approaching a Limitation deadline and it was in that context that he had decided on the course of action that he took, namely altering the existing statement of truth without any justification for doing so. The claim was struck out for the reasons set out by the District Judge, including the fact that the Particulars of Claim had not been verified by Statement of Truth and on the basis that the Statement of Truth that had been provided was on a separate page.
37.3 In view of the Tribunal’s findings in respect of Part 17, it was not necessary to assess whether or not the change of claim was substantial. However the Tribunal noted that the change included the removal of one of the claimants from the intended proceedings and changes to the date of birth of one of the remaining claimants. These were small but material changes to the Particulars of Claim.”
RELATED POSTS ON SIGNING THE STATEMENT OF TRUTH
- Statements of case & the statement of truth: can a party argue two different things?
- Think very carefully before signing a statement of truth on behalf of your client.
- The profound lack of wisdom in signing statements of truth on behalf of your client.
- “Taking the statement of truth lightly”
- Signing disclosure statements? Remember you can go to prison.
- Pleadings, the statement of truth and contempt of court: useful guidance from RPC solicitors.
- Witness statements and avoiding jail: are you protecting your clients and protecting yourself?
- Issuing without authority: the dangers of solicitors signing statements of truth
- The importance of the statement of truth: the signatory cannot hide behind the draftsman
- Schedules of damages, wasted costs and the statement of truth.