It is trite to say that the content of witness statements is a crucial aspect of witness credibility. In the recent case of JSC Mezhdunarodniy Promyshlenniy Bank v Sergi Viktorovich Pugachev  EWHC 4336 (Ch) (“the JSC case”) Mr Justice Mann made some important observations about the identifying of sources in a witness statement. CPR 32 PD.18 deals with witness statements and provides that the text should indicate sections of its contents that are made only from information and belief as opposed to matters which are within the witness’s own knowledge, and should state the sources of any matters of information and belief. If the source is a person, they should be named – see Consolidated Contractors International Co SAL v Masri  Bus LR D108 in which Lord Justice Aikens held at paragraph 32 that the aim of this provision is to ensure that a person against whom serious allegations are being made can identify the source of any information or belief that is not within the witness’s own knowledge so, that these matters can be investigated:
[S]ave in exceptional cases [such as where confidentiality is an issue], the deponent must identify the source of the relevant information or belief. If the source is a person, that person must, save in exceptional cases, be identified with sufficient certainty to enable the person against whom the affidavit is directed to investigate the information or belief in accordance with the rules of court or other relevant legal principles.
In the JSC case the defendant was applying for the discharge of a worldwide freezing order made against him. One of the grounds for the application related to the inadequacy of the witness statement in support of the claimant’s original application. The complaint was that it contained a large amount of hearsay evidence but generally did not identify its source, which created a generalised impression that was intended to smear. Although in this case the technical faults with the witness statement were insufficient reason to overturn the freezing order, the judge did stress the importance of naming the source of information or belief in witness statements and he held that a party making such a statement cannot rely on privilege as a reason for not disclosing a source (as the witness in this case had sought to do).
To sum up, this case is a useful reminder of this often-ignored obligation for the drafting of witness statements. Failure to name sources of any matters of information and belief can give rise to profound difficulties for the litigant and the witness, undermining the credibility of the witness or, in extreme cases, rendering their witness statement inadmissible.