The defendant insurers in the case of Rasoul v Linkevicius (5th October 2012, Unreported), successfully obtained a wasted costs order against claimant solicitors in an RTA claim. The case is a warning to claimant solicitors in RTA claims where there is an allegation of fraud and parties/witnesses who do not speak English. For defendants it is a lesson in how clear allegations set out from early on can have devastating consequences.
The background facts are similar to those commonly encountered in practice. Following the RTA correspondence ensued between the claimant’s solicitors and the defendant insurers. A modest PI claim was made and the insurers questioned the bona fides of the claim. The Defence pleaded fraud clearly against the claimant. He served a witness statement which did not have an integral statement of truth – the statement appeared on a separate sheet of paper rather than being part of the body of the statement itself. Two witnesses provided statements with statements of truth.
At trial the claimant gave no evidence as only spoke Kurdish and was illiterate. His statement had been in English and not translated. The husband and wife witnesses were Kurdish. The husband spoke reasonable English but had given his statement over the phone to a solicitor he had not met and at trial he said that his statement was a substantial expansion of what he told the solicitor. The other witness (his wife) spoke no English – her husband translated for her whilst the solicitor took the statement over the phone. She gave evidence that she had never spoken to the solicitor before the statement arrived.
Unsurprisingly the case was dismissed and the judge referred to either the extreme incompetence on the part of the solicitors or an attempt to establish a case on fabricated evidence. The insurer made an application for a waste costs order against the solicitors.
The judge made an order on the basis that there was no evidence of a proper signed statement from the claimant or the witness taken before proceedings were issued. Although an interpreter turned up at trial he was not allowed to be used as there had been no order relating to his attendance. The judge was critical that the witnesses were not seen face to face by the solicitors given the allegations of fraud. He concluded that proper competent work by the solicitors would have ensured that the case collapsed long before the trial took place.
Defendants will be alert to the possibility of pursuing claimant solicitors where fraud has been alleged, there has been incompetence on the part of claimant solicitors which, had it not taken place, would have been likely to have meant the case would not have gone ahead.
Claimants will want to see witnesses and take statements face to face where there are allegations of fraud. They must ensure that a proper ‘integral’ statement of truth is signed on the witness statement. If someone is unable to speak English it is essential that a translator is involved in the process of taking the statement, that the statement is translated, the translator makes an appropriate statement (see Practice Direction to Part 32) and the presence of a translator at trial is anticipated by a court order. Careful preparation needs to be undertaken so that solicitors can protect themselves by showing that a witness did give the evidence set out in the statement – even if they deny it at trial and seek to blame it on the solicitors.