PROVING THINGS 236: THE DANGERS OF ADOPTING A FORMULAIC, TICK BOX APPROACH TO EVIDENCE
The decision in Camfield & Ors v Uyiekpen & Anor (HOUSING – RENT REPAYMENT ORDER – evidence – pro forma witness statements)  UKUT 234 (LC) is a working example of the dangers of “tick box” evidence.
“This case is an example of the dangers of adopting a formulaic, tick box approach to the evidence necessary to prove the elements of a criminal offence to the required criminal standard. The pro-forma witness statements relied on by the appellants omitted to mention one of the critical conditions. The documents are so concise and impersonal that it is impossible to find in them any material from which to begin to form an impression of the applicants and their house mates.”
The applicants/appellants sought orders against the defendant for rent repayments. The applicants argued that the respondents had unlawfully let a house in multiple occupation and were liable to repay the rent.
THE EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF THE APPLICANTS’ CASES
The evidence that the applicants gave, however, was sparse.
15. The five appellants later filed witness statements in March 2021. The statements were very similar and give the impression of being based on a pro-forma draft addressing, each in a single sentence, the conditions required to demonstrate that the property was an HMO. Minimal additional information was inserted to provide details of the witness’s name, period of occupation, rent and other details. Only when the statement addressed matters of conduct did any detail begin to emerge.
16. The standard form of the witness statements can be illustrated by referring to the document signed by Nicolle Ducasse. I quote the relevant part in full, omitting only some brief allegations about an absence of safety precautions randomly inserted after paragraph 7.2:
“4. The property was my main residence during my occupancy.
5. I shared the property with up to 5 other occupants. We shared 3 bathroom(s) and 1 kitchen(s).
6. The occupants were from more than one family or household. In fact we were made up of 5 separate households.
7.1 I was assigned a room in the property: top floor en-suite bedroom (own bathroom for sole use).
7.2 I intended to stay at the property for at least 6 months. …
8. The property was occupied as per the Occupancy Table shown in the applicant bundle with this statement.”
17. The statement went on to provide, in rather more personal terms, an account of alleged acts of harassment. It concluded with a statement of truth.
18. The witness statements prepared by the other appellants were in more or less identical terms, except for the allegations of harassment which differed slightly.
THE DANGERS OF THIS APPROACH
On appeal the Upper Tribunal noted the problems caused by the sparse witness statements.
19. The deficiencies of this form of evidence are not difficult to see. By limiting the information provided to a bald confirmation of the statutory qualifying conditions the witness leaves many questions unanswered. What did she mean by the statement “the property was my main residence”? Did she have other residences? If so, where were they and how much time did she spend there? What was it that made this property her main residence? Similarly, the statement that “the property was occupied as per the Occupancy Table shown in the applicant bundle with this statement” begs the question whether the witness had seen that bundle or the table said to have been included in it and how she was able to confirm its contents. How would she know who lived there before or after her period of occupation?
20. More significantly, none of the appellants said anything about Kate Tseng whose name appeared in the occupation schedule but who did not provide a witness statement and was not mentioned by any of them.
THE FTT’S DECISION
The applicants were unsuccessful at first instance, primarily because of the inadequate of the evidence.