The “Covid Repeats” series next week will revisit some of those (many) cases where judges have found witness statements to be inadequate.  The inclusion of unnecessary matters in witness statements is a continuing issue. It can be seen in the judgment of HHJ Lewis in JQL v NTP [2020] EWHC 1349 (QB).

“His witness statement was full of vitriol, and was unnecessarily insulting about aspects of JQL’s life and personality …Much of what he says is also hearsay. Some of it is clearly wrong…”


The claimant brought a case for misuse of private information and breach of confidence arising out of disclosures made by family members on Facebook.  There was a background of considerable animosity between family members.


Counsel for the defendants appeared by way of direct access, it is not clear that the defendants’ witness statements were drafted with the assistance of lawyers.  In any event some of those statements gave rise to critical comment from the judge.

    1. I heard oral evidence from both parties and all their respective siblings, as well as from the Great Aunt. The division of witnesses matched the ‘side’ each has taken in the family feud, with the Mother and four of JQL’s siblings giving evidence for JQL, and the Aunt, the Uncle, the Great Aunt and the First Brother giving evidence for NTP. The parties also rely on unchallenged statements from the Sister-in Law and “the Family Friend” on behalf of JQL and from the Aunt’s Partner, Cousin One and Cousin Two on behalf of NTP.
    2. Where witness credibility is in issue, the approach the court should take was outlined by Goff LJ in Armagas Ltd v. Mundogas S.A. (The Ocean Frost) [1985] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 1 at [57]:
“Speaking from my own experience, I have found it essential in cases of fraud, when considering the credibility of witnesses, always to test their veracity by reference to the objective facts proved independently of their testimony, in particular by reference to the documents in the case, and also to pay particular regard to their motives and to the overall probabilities. It is frequently very difficult to tell whether a witness is telling the truth or not; and where there is a conflict of evidence such as there was in the present case, reference to the objective facts and documents, to the witnesses’ motives, and to the overall probabilities, can be of very great assistance to a Judge in ascertaining the truth.”
    1. In evaluating the witness evidence, I am aware that family pressure may well have been placed on witnesses for both sides to give evidence in a certain way. This might be direct pressure, but is as likely to be indirect, with witnesses feeling that they need to be loyal to their ‘side’. The polarised accounts given in evidence is a concern. I note too that, given the feud, some witnesses may have been motivated to give evidence to cause harm to either JQL or NTP. I remind myself that just because someone has lied about one thing, it does not mean that they are lying about something else, and witnesses lie for all sorts of reasons. Some of the disputed events are said to have taken place nearly a decade ago, and this needs to be factored in when assessing the ability of a witness to recall, or not recall, specific events and conversations.
    2. There was an unusually stark contrast between the quality of oral evidence given on behalf of each party, in terms of the substance of that evidence rather than demeanour.
    3. The evidence of the claimant and her witnesses seemed credible. Each witness appeared to keep to matters within their own knowledge and what they said was broadly in line with their statements. They answered questions well, and could expand upon things when asked. With JQL and the Mother, their evidence was consistent with the contemporaneous documentation. Despite the deeply personal issues being explored, both remained controlled and courteous. The Second, Third and Fourth Brothers did not have to give evidence for long, but did so in a straightforward manner and were clear with their answers.
    4. The Sister did well, given her age. Special measures were in place and the guidance from the Advocate’s Gateway on vulnerable witnesses in civil proceedings was followed. The Great Aunt said that the Sister is a shy and quite sensitive child, and she came across as such. There were some inconsistencies with her evidence but I got the impression that she was genuine and answering questions to the best of her ability.
    5. With NTP’s witnesses, the Great Aunt gave evidence by laptop from home as she was shielding from coronavirus. She came across well, although it became clear that she did not, in fact, have direct knowledge of the things she says about JQL. This all appears to have come from the Grandmother, who did not have direct knowledge of the matters either. The Great Aunt and the Grandmother did not speak for years and only resumed their relationship in 2015/2016. This means the accounts given by the Grandmother to the Great Aunt would not have been contemporaneous, and were given at a time when there was already acrimony between the Grandmother, the Mother and JQL.
    6. The Aunt could give direct evidence about the X-Factor and the Facebook posts, albeit she was quite vague at times, but was unable to give much direct evidence about JQL. This is because she too had not spoken to the Grandmother, or really been in touch with her maternal family, between 2010 and March 2015, only starting to see the Grandmother more regularly in 2017. As with the Great Aunt, it transpired that the Aunt’s primary source of information was the Grandmother, with all the same problems just identified.
    7. The written and oral evidence of the Uncle was particularly unsatisfactory. His witness statement was full of vitriol, and was unnecessarily insulting about aspects of JQL’s life and personality. He clearly despises everything about her, and has done so for years. Parts of his statement come across as exaggerated, light on specifics and making sweeping generalisations. Much of what he says is also hearsay. Some of it is clearly wrong: for example, his factual assertion that the Mother had JQL “sectioned” against her will, or when he says that JQL “collapsed” at the First Brother’s wedding needing treatment for the “self-harm inflicted on herself” (emphasis added). In fact, I accept that JQL wore impractical shoes, tripped on the edge of the dance floor and needed some stitches on her hand. The Uncle was not actually present when this all happened.
    8. The First Brother’s evidence was troubling. Whilst I take little from his demeanour, I note he was extremely agitated and hostile. Some of this might have been understandable nerves and worry, giving evidence against his immediate family. I was also told that he was worried about having to travel such a distance to give evidence the week before the pandemic “lockdown”, for reasons given by NTP’s counsel. In evidence, he showed real hatred towards JQL, even sneering when referring to her degree. He said he has not got on with her for about seven years, denied that he was jealous because she received financial help with her education and said he could not care less if she was to get hit by a bus, or win millions.
    9. More significantly, the First Brother was unable to really go beyond what was in his statement. For example, when he was asked why the only examples of drug taking he has given are identical to those set out by NTP, all he could say was that “all I know is in the witness statement”, an answer that he later repeated in a different context. At one point, when challenged about inadequacies with his evidence, all he could say was “no comment”.
    10. Again, it transpired that some of the information in the First Brother’s statement had come from the Grandmother. As with the Uncle, some things in his statement were simply untrue. For example, he referred to JQL’s 16th birthday party as an example of an occasion when all the siblings were together, and describes how JQL presented. In fact, he was not there. It transpired that the extreme account he gave – “a drunken mess and clearly high on some drug” – was apparently based on his interpretation of photos on Facebook. There are other examples, some of which are identified later. I note in passing that four of NTP’s witnesses mention the 16th birthday party, even though none were present.
    11. NTP himself came across as a confident witness, robust and unapologetic. He could answer most questions. He conceded quite a bit in the witness box, which is to his credit and suggests that he was doing his best to answer questions honestly. As with his other witnesses, it transpired that he was unable to give direct evidence on some of the more prejudicial things that he says about JQL, and he could not provide further detail or examples. The main difficulties with NTP’s evidence came about when he
      was seeking to make somewhat strained and artificial links between JQL’s mental health and self-harm with other things that have happened in her life.
Alleged attempts to interfere with the First Brother’s evidence
  1. The First Brother says that last year the Mother resumed contact and made numerous long-distance trips to see him. He says that each time, she tried to get him to agree not to give evidence, or to change what he would say. He has disclosed messages that show the Mother threatening to have no more to do with him. The Mother accepts that she tried to dissuade the First Brother from giving evidence because she did not want him to perjure himself. I accept the Mother’s motivation was to get the First Brother to tell the truth, although what she did was misjudged. The First Brother confirmed that this did not affect the evidence that he has given, but I have kept what happened in mind when evaluating the evidence of the other siblings.
  2. At trial, the First Brother claimed that he had recently been offered a cut of JQL’s damages. He said his siblings were “greedy little pigs” for having agreed to split what he later called the “blood money”. It seems implausible, however, that JQL, the Mother and four siblings, would collude in this way to commit what would be a serious criminal offence and a contempt. The Mother is married to a former policeman. JQL is training to be a lawyer. The Sister is a child. The Third Brother is pursuing a career as a scientist. This is a claim where capped damages are sought. The financial reward for each would be minimal – the First Brother seemed to think the money would be spent on a large family holiday to Florida – and the consequences if caught could be life-changing. Looked at in the context of the First Brother’s other evidence, I do not consider this allegation to be made out.


The claimant was successful. She was awarded damages of £15,000. The judge granted an injunction preventing further disclosures.