Join the Conversation!
Impartial and independent, ThoughtLeaders4 Disputes Knowledge Hub hosts cutting edge industry content and insight.
Email email@example.com to submit content.
Wagatha Christie – The Unreliable WitnessDate: 20/10/2022 Type: Articles Topic: Disputes | Shareholder Diputes | Digital Dispute Resolution | Libor | In-House | Crypto | International Arbitration | Litigation Funding | Future of Dispute Resolution |
Along with the rest of the world, we at Bond Solon watched the "Wagatha Christie" libel trial unfold with much intrigue. As the UK’s leading provider of Witness Familiarisation training, we were particularly interested in the media reporting during the trial, of Rebecca Vardy’s performance in the witness box, and the potentially detrimental impact it appeared to be having on her case.
The Honourable Mrs Justice Steyn DBE’s eagerly awaited judgment in Vardy v Rooney  EWHC 2017 (QB) 7 WLUK 412 was publicly released on 29th July.
It provides invaluable commentary on the conduct of both parties, particularly in their capacity as witnesses. It also highlights the impact that witness preparation training can have on witnesses who are due to give evidence at court.
Background to the case
The judgment followed a seven-day trial in May 2022 of a libel claim brought by the claimant, Ms Rebekah Vardy, against the defendant Ms Coleen Rooney.
The claim was brought in respect of a social media post published by Ms Coleen Rooney on 9 October 2019 on Twitter, Facebook and her public Instagram account, which publicly accused Ms Rebekah Vardy of leaking private information about her, her friends and family to the Sun newspaper without her knowledge or permission.
The Judge dealt with the witness evidence in paragraphs 37-52 of the Judgment.
What is immediately clear from the judgment is the difference in description by the judge in her assessment of both parties’ performance as witnesses.
For example, the judge thought it necessary to treat the claimant’s evidence ‘‘with considerable caution’’ but was complimentary of the defendant’s conduct, referring to her as "an honest and reliable witness’’.
In order to consider this in more detail, we have conducted a comparative analysis of the judge’s comments in relation to key elements of the witnesses’ performance.
Overall demeanour/ manner of giving evidence
‘’Ms Vardy found the process of giving evidence stressful, and at times distressing.’’
‘’She sought to answer the questions she was asked without any evasion, and without conveying any sense that she was giving pre-prepared answers.’’
The nature/content of evidence given
‘’There were many occasions when her evidence was manifestly inconsistent with the contemporaneous documentary evidence (e.g., in relation to the World Cup 2018 and the photoshopped pictures), and others where she was evasive.’’
‘’Her evidence was consistent with the contemporaneous evidence and with the evidence given by her witnesses.’’
‘’Ms Vardy was generally unwilling to make factual concessions, however implausible her evidence. This inevitably affects my overall view of her credibility, although I have borne in mind that untruthful evidence may be given to mask guilt or to fortify innocence.’’
‘’When she was challenged, for example on whether there were followers of the Private Instagram Account who were not trusted friends, her evidence was clear and compelling.’’
‘’Ms Vardy did not call her close friend and agent, Ms Watt, as a witness…Ms Watt is a vital witness to the matters in issue, whose absence is striking.’’
‘’In my view, the claimant’s decision not to seek to call Ms Watt, against her will, was motivated, to a substantial degree, by concern for her friend’s welfare. But in the circumstances, I also draw the inference that Ms Vardy chose not to call Ms Watt because she knew that when tested in cross-examination her evidence would be shown to be untrue, and that it would have been highly likely to have undermined the claimant’s case that she had no involvement in disclosing information from the Private Instagram Account.’’
‘’The evidence of Mr McLoughlin, Mr Stretford and Mr Whittle, and in part the evidence of Ms Monk, Ms Claire Rooney and Mr Rooney, was essentially directed at countering the possible contention that others knew about what Ms Rooney called the “Sting Operation” (i.e. her plan to catch the leaker), and so Ms Vardy’s account was not the only possible source of disclosure to the press of stories or posts that were only visible to her account. I accept Ms Rooney’s evidence, which was fully supported by the witnesses she called, that she told no one about her plan or the fabricated posts until she published the Reveal Post.’’
The judge in this case awarded in favour of the defendant, setting aside the claimant’s case.
Putting the strength of the evidence aside, it is clear from the above table that the defendant made a much more credible witness than the claimant. This was in large part due to her conduct and demeanour throughout the process of giving evidence.
Giving evidence can be a daunting and nerve-wracking prospect for a witness (and it certainly was for Ms Rebekah Vardy). Particularly if they have never been inside a court room before and/or if they have been personally affected by the case itself. Cross examination can cripple even a reliable witness if they have not been properly trained.
Bond Solon’s witness familiarisation training focuses on techniques and exercises to build confidence, allay any concerns a witness may have, and ultimately improve a witness’ performance. It does not try to change the facts or truth, or to rewrite the evidence. Instead, it teaches witnesses what to expect during the process of giving evidence and how to effectively deal with cross-examination.
It is not known whether, although it seems highly unlikely, that Ms Vardy had any form of witness training. If she had attended Bond Solon's witness familiarisation training, it would have dealt with the importance of giving consistent evidence and making concessions where appropriate, two of the criticisms made by the Judge made against Ms Vardy.
Without those criticisms (which were the subject of considerable media comment) it begs the question what the findings of the Judge would have been.
What is clear, is that a witness’ performance can make or break a client’s case.
Author: Meera Shah, Content Editor and Non-practising Solicitor
Date first published: 21 September 2022 with Bond Solon