Key reminders for witnesses in court

31st May 2023

We look at a case involving the General Medical Council (GMC), which highlights some important points regarding witnesses in court.

Lateef v GMC [2022] EWHC 2743 - background

Dr Lateef was suspended in 2018 following a conviction for dangerous driving. Dr Lateef had made false representations that (a) nobody had been injured and (b) that he had been unemployed at the time. While suspended, Dr Lateef submitted a fabricated CV to an employment agency. Dr Lateef contended that he never utilised the false CV and that someone else must have submitted it without his knowledge. A new explanation later emerged, that he had contacted a spiritual adviser, Mr Olayinka, revealing that unknown to Dr Lateef, his late wife had accessed his email account and utilised the false CV.

The Tribunal found that it had been Dr Lateef, and not his late wife, who had utilised the false CV. Dr Lateef’s conduct fell so far short of expected standards and he had shown persistent dishonesty, which is fundamentally incompatible with being a doctor. The Tribunal ordered Dr Lateef’s removal from the register of medical practitioners on 18 January 2022.

The Appeal

Dr Lateef denied the allegations and argued that the Tribunal’s decision was wrong and/or unjust by reason of serious procedural or other irregularity. His reasons included procedural unfairness, through the Tribunal’s failure to (a) secure an interpreter for Mr Olayinka, who was giving video evidence from Nigeria, or (b) adjourn the hearing due to the problematic internet connection and language barrier.

The court held that none of the grounds of appeal had any basis for the court concluding that the Tribunal’s decision was in any respect wrong or unjust and that there was no procedural unfairness.

Salient points to take away

Lateef reminds us that in civil litigation (and potentially extending to Tribunal proceedings), if a witness is considered exceptionally permitted to appear from abroad using a video link, it is obligatory for those seeking to call the witness to obtain permission from the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office and the Diplomatic Mission of the foreign state in which the witness will be giving evidence, well before any such evidence is given. When permitted, it would be pertinent it is important to ensure that the witness is in a quiet space, with suitable internet connection.

It is fundamental that witnesses are able to give evidence in a clear and compelling manner. If a witness requires an interpreter, one must be requested well in advance by the party requiring such an interpreter. It is, notably, not the Court’s obligation to source an interpreter (set out at [13] in Lateef).

Lateef further reminds us of CPR Practice Directions 22 and 32, which impose several requirements on witness statements filed by non-English speakers:

  • The witness statement must be drafted in the witness’s own language;
  • The statement of truth must be in the witness’s own language;
  • The party relying on the witness statement must file a certified English translation; and
  • Witness statements should be in the witness’s own intended words.

These rules remove the risk of witnesses signing statements that do not reflect what they intend to say and without understanding the significance of the statement of truth.

Lateef lastly reminds us that the default position is not to grant witnesses anonymity. It is for the party petitioning for anonymity to make a ‘compelling case’ as to why anonymity should be granted.

This article was first published on 22 November 2022, and updated on 31 May 2023.

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