The new Practice Direction 57AC (Witness evidence at trial) is set to significantly alter the approach taken to witness statements in the Business and Property Courts.
There has been increasing judicial criticism of witness statements in recent years. The courts have disapproved of witness statements crafted by lawyers that contain storytelling narratives, extensive references to documents, and blur factual evidence with legal argument. There is also increasing judicial recognition that human memory is fallible, influenced, and ever-changing. Practice Direction 57AC is the product of the Witness Evidence Working Group, established to address these issues.
PD 57A will apply to witness statements signed on or after 6 April 2021 for use at trials in the Business and Property Courts, regardless of when a claim was issued. It reiterates various current requirements pertaining to witness statements, but also imposes some completely new ones. There is a ‘Statement of Best Practice’ appended to the new PD, and paragraph 3.4 of the PD states that trial witness statements should be prepared in accordance with it.
It will be interesting to see how the PD 57AC affects the practice in the Business and Property Courts, whether it results in increased challenges by parties to the admissibility of their opponents’ evidence, whether there is judicial appetite for imposing sanctions, and if the changes are ultimately implemented beyond the Business and Property Courts.