Court of Appeal gives guidance on sentencing an expert who has signed a false statement of truth

An expert witness produced a report which was verified by a false statement of truth (and subsequently made further false statements in witness statements). The expert was a GP who regularly prepared medico-legal reports to support road traffic accident personal injury claims against insurers. The expert was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment, suspended for 2 years. The insurers appealed against that sentence and asked for it to be increased.

The judge had noted that there was no prior caselaw on the appropriate sentence to be passed on an expert witness who was in contempt of court. The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the deliberate or reckless making of a false statement in a document which is verified by a statement of truth will usually be so inherently serous that nothing other than an order for committal to prison will be sufficient. The position will be even more serious if an expert witness makes the false statement for reward. However, the Court of Appeal further held that: "it will be a serious contempt of court even if the expert witness acts from an indirect financial motive (such as a desire to obtain more work from a particular solicitor or claims manager), or without any financial motivation at all, and even if the expert witness stands to gain little financial reward by it. This is so because of the reliance placed on expert witnesses by the court, and because of the corresponding importance of the overriding duty which experts owe to the court". Accordingly, this form of contempt is always serious, even if the falsity of the relevant statement is identified at an early stage and does not affect the outcome of the case.

The Court of Appeal concluded that, in this case, "we cannot think that a term of less than 9 months was appropriate", and that that term should have been served immediately. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal declined to increase the sentence in this particular case, "because we have sought in this judgment to give some guidance which was not previously available to those sentencing for contempt of court, and we accept that it would be unfair to the Respondent to impose upon him the adverse consequences of that guidance".