Threshold of Fraud Allegations

Noble v Owens (Court of Appeal March 2010)

The Defendant, Mr Noble, had been awarded of substantial damages by the Court at first instance for injuries suffered in a road traffic accident. Mr Owens admitted liability and damages were assessed in the sum of 3,397,766.49.

The award had been based on a finding that Mr Nobles immobility was permanent and severely restricted and he would never work again.

After payment of damages, Mr Owens insurers received information that MrNoble did not appear to be as seriously disabled as he had claimed. Surveillance was arranged, which when reviewed by Mr Owens insurers, concluded that the extent of mobility displayed by Mr Noble was so inconsistent as presented at trial that the only conclusion that could be drawn was that he had deliberately misled the Court at first instance as to the severity of his continuing symptoms.

Mr Owens was granted permission to appeal out of the usual time permitted and submitted that in view of the fresh evidence, the previous award of damages should be set aside and there should be a re-trial.

Mr Noble consented to the fresh evidence being admitted, but submitted that MrOwens correct remedy when alleging fraud was to commence a fresh action to set aside the original Judgement.

It was held by the Supreme Court that it would not order a re-trial unless either the fraud was admitted by Mr Noble or the evidence of it was incontrovertible. In the absence of this, it was convenient and economical for the case to be remitted back to the original trial Judge.

This case highlights the high threshold placed on allegation fraud. The Court was faced with a number of options in the face of Mr Owens allegation of fraud. It could have set aside the Judgement immediately and ordered a re-hearing or alternatively it may simply have let the Judgement stand unless fraud had been proven at a trial. The Court held that for a Judgement to be overturned when fresh evidence is presented, either the alleged fraud is admitted or the evidence is of such magnitude that it could not possibly be denied. The Court has adopted a balancing test, weighing up the justice and prejudice to the parties and the intrinsic severity placed on a fraud allegation but also looking at the economical reality of having to potentially order a case to be heard again. Accordingly, unless the issue of fraud is irrefutable, the case will be remitted to the original trial Judge, if available, to then first make a decision on the issue of fraud taking into account the evidence presented to him at the original trial set against the fresh evidence presented. If fraud is established, then it is within their power to impose such sanctions as they see fit with regards to the original decision.