In this case Aviva applied to commit a Claimant (Mr Bate) for contempt of court, for having created or colluded in the creation of false documents in support of his insurance claim. The Claimant was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
Mr Bate had made a claim against his own Insurers (Aviva) after an accidental fire at this property. His claim was dismissed and he was found to be actively dishonest in the presentation of his claim. In particular, false documents had been created after the event in support of the claim. Aviva also said that Mr Bate had failed to disclose relevant documents and deliberately interfered with witness evidence. His actions had been part of a dishonest scheme intended to increase the prospects of his claim succeeding.
After the civil trial was dismissed, Aviva decided that they would take action against Mr Bate and they made an application to have him committed for contempt of court.
Aviva did not call any witnesses to support their application against Mr Bate. However, Mr Bate put forward a revised version of events, which had not been raised either at the original trial or the appeal. Mr Bate denied the allegations made against him by Aviva. He argued that Aviva should call witnesses to give evidence in support of their application and that in not doing so Aviva were depriving him of an opportunity to cross-examine important witnesses.
The court decided that Mr Bate’s arguments were misconceived. It would be absurd for the court to have to reconsider witness evidence, which had been dealt with at a civil trial, where the facts were established. The court, instead, was to review the findings of dishonesty and to consider whether what Mr Bate was saying might be true. The court then had to decide whether Mr Bate had to be given the benefit of the doubt and whether contempt could or could not be proved.
The court found that it was clear that the allegations made in the Mr Bate’s fresh live witness evidence were in fact new allegations, which had no support from documentary evidence. His defence depended entirely upon his new evidence.
Aviva succeeded in showing Mr Bate had created or colluded in creating false documents to support his claim. However, they failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Bate had deliberately withheld documents or deliberately interfered with witness evidence.
If it had not been for the Claimant’s age, poor health and previous good character (he was 71 and unwell), an immediate prison sentence would have been unavoidable. However, in all the circumstances, the court decided the appropriate sentence was nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.