KJM Superbikes Ltd v Hinton [2008] EWCA Civ 1280 was an appeal by KJM Superbikes Limited (KJM) against a decision by Sir Andrew Park in the High Court in which he denied KJM permission to bring proceedings for contempt of court against Mr Anthony James Hinton for untrue statements that were made by Mr Hinton in a witness statement.

This case arose out of Honda v Neesam, in which Honda Motor Co. Ltd and its UK subsidiary, Honda Motor Europe Limited (together Honda) brought proceedings against KJM for infringement of their trade marks after KJM had imported Honda motorcycles from Australia to the UK through an Australian dealer, Lime Exports Limited (Lime).

The court eventually held that Honda's trade mark rights had been exhausted as Honda's subsidiary in Australia (Honda Australia) had been aware that the motorcycles were being exported worldwide by Lime and had therefore consented to their sale in the European Economic Area (EEA).

During the proceedings Honda relied upon a witness statement made by Mr Hinton, who was the general manager at Honda Australia. In his witness statement Mr Hinton stated that Lime was only authorised to export motorcycles to the Pacific Islands and not elsewhere. However, documents which were disclosed during the proceedings contradicted Mr Hinton's statement. The solicitors for KJM then wrote to Mr Hinton and warned him that it was a contempt of court for a person to make a witness statement verified by a statement of truth that was false and that he knew was false. This resulted in Mr Hinton making a second witness statement in which he admitted that several things he said in his previous statement were untrue and he had known they were untrue at the time. According to Mr Hinton, his aim had not been to mislead the court but to protect the reputation of Honda Australia within the wider Honda group.

Nevertheless, despite Mr Hinton's admission, the trial judge refused to grant KJM permission to bring proceedings for contempt. His decision was influenced by several factors, including the fact that Mr Hinton had a "difficult and stressful" experience during cross-examination, and that contempt proceedings:

  • might have proved costly to both parties;
  • may not have resulted in a significant penalty; and
  • may not have affected the course of justice in an appreciable manner.

Outcome

The Court of Appeal held that the trial judge had erred in his refusal to allow KJM permission to bring proceedings. Although the judge acknowledged that the alleged contempt was serious, he had not given the matter the weight it deserved; he had been unduly influenced by Mr Hinton's cross-examination experience and was wrong to believe that the chance of the proceedings for contempt of court resulting in a significant penalty was remote or would not "do much to promote the integrity of, or respect for, the legal process in the future".

The appeal court held that, had the judge given permission to bring such proceedings, they would have been "likely to have a salutary effect in bringing home to those who are involved in claims of this kind, of which there are many, the importance of honesty in making witness statements and the significance of the statement of truth". The fact that the proceedings would have been costly was also an important factor but this was over-emphasised by the trial judge in light of the seriousness of the contempt. Furthermore, costs were a burden for the applicant to bear in contempt proceedings of this type and not the public purse.

The Court of Appeal also contemplated whether there was any merit in bringing the proceedings against Mr Hinton in any event as he had returned to Australia and therefore was outside the UK High Court's jurisdiction (unless he returned to England or appointed someone to accept service on his behalf). The court concluded that these issues were not critical since, if it refused the action on those grounds, it would convey the message that foreign witnesses would not need to maintain the same standards of honesty as those resident in the UK.

Comment

This decision illustrates the crucial importance to the UK's adversarial system of justice of maintaining the integrity of witness evidence, and the resolve of the Court of Appeal to protect that integrity. Although Mr Hinton claimed that he had not intended to mislead the court, his actions in doing so had the potential to damage not only KJM's business, but also the integrity of administration of justice in the UK. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal's decision was, with respect, a good one for all litigants in this jurisdiction.

The decision serves as a reminder to witnesses and legal practitioners to be careful to ensure the truth of witness statements filed with the court; the message for witnesses from other jurisdictions is to treat the UK courts' requirements and procedures seriously, because the court will not hesitate to make orders against witnesses even if they are no longer in the jurisdiction.