WITNESS CREDIBILITY, ATTENDANCE NOTES AND FINDINGS OF FACT

Lady Hale had this to say

“Lord Nicholls’ nuanced explanation[7] left room for the nostrum, “the more serious the allegation, the more cogent the evidence needed to prove it”, to take hold and be repeated time and time again in fact-finding hearings in care proceedings (see, for example, the argument of counsel for the local authority in Re U (A Child) (Department for Education and Skills intervening) [2004] EWCA Civ 567, [2005] Fam 134, at p 137. It is time for us to loosen its grip and give it its quietus”.

On the issue of inherent probability she went on to remark on the need to look at matters in context and not in a vacuum;

“Some seriously harmful behaviour, such as murder, is sufficiently rare to be inherently improbable in most circumstances. Even then there are circumstances, such as a body with its throat cut and no weapon to hand, where it is not at all improbable. Other seriously harmful behaviour, such as alcohol or drug abuse, is regrettably all too common and not at all improbable. Nor are serious allegations made in a vacuum. Consider the famous example of the animal seen in Regent’s Park. If it is seen outside the zoo on a stretch of greensward regularly used for walking dogs, then of course it is more likely to be a dog than a lion. If it is seen in the zoo next to the lions’ enclosure when the door is open, then it may well be more likely to be a lion than a dog“.

Civil Litigation Brief

In Mansion Estates Ltd -v- Hayre & Co (A Firm) [2016] EWHC 96 (Ch) His Honour Judge Saffman (sitting as a judge of the High Court) went, carefully, through the principles relating to witness credibility and findings of fact. Given the implications of the findings made this is probably not surprising.

” …in my view it would be wrong to assume that it is inherently more improbable that a professional person will be dishonest than anyone else. If ever such a view validly had traction, I do not think it can do so in the modern world.”

KEY POINTS

  • The judge considered the law in relation to the burden of proof and the assessment of witness evidence.
  • Despite the existence of attendance notes prepared by the defendant the judge preferred the evidence of the claimant. The claimant satisfied the burden of proof and those attendance notes were not accepted.

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