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How to Annoy Judges

There wasn’t much law in the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Friends Life v Miley [2019] EWCA Civ 261, other than a reiteration of the principle derived from Economides v Commercial Union [1998] QB 587 that a declaration in a proposal, that information is true to the best of the proponent’s knowledge and belief, connotes only a test of honesty, and not accuracy.

However, the decision (which is reported at https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/261.html) struck me as a textbook example of how to alienate the tribunal.

Background

Mr Miley has a high-powered, high-pressure job at an investment bank. He became (he said) to unwell too work, and for four years he received payments under a Permanent Health Insurance policy written by Friends Life (“FL”). FL then ceased making payments, contending that Mr Miley was exaggerating his condition.

Mr Miley sued Friends Life. The Trial Judge (Turner J) had been unimpressed by an application by FL that he should recuse himself because (or so FL submitted) some questions he had emailed to their QC apparently demonstrated bias. He dismissed the recusal application, and in a subsequent judgment held in favour of Mr Miley

FL appealed to the Court of Appeal, and again pursued a forensic course which seems not to have endeared them to the Lord Justices.

FL’s appeal rested on essentially two grounds.

First, they contended, as I have said, that Mr Miley had exaggerated his condition. Secondly, they contended that he had under-declared his income in the years he was receiving payments under the policy. Both grounds failed.

Exaggeration

As to the first ground, FL did not have permission to challenge the Trial Judge’s finding that Mr Miley jad not been dishonest. Despite that, FL saw fit to describe in the appeal papers a schedule of alleged misrepresentations (which of course might have been made by My Miley, if at all, merely carelessly) as “Lies”. The Court of Appeal didn’t like that.

FL also produced a separate 25-page of “Schedule of Factual Inconsistencies”, picking out further alleged inaccuracies in Mr Miley’s presentation of his condition, on which the Court of Appeal commented drily that “we were not invited to consider any of these items individually, either in the written or oral arguments presented on behalf of FL, and have not done so.”

Having managed seemingly to alienate the Court in this way, it transpired that much of FL’s case turned on the fact that Mr Miley, while contending that he was too ill to do his job, had nevertheless gone to the pub on various occasions and had been on a number of holidays.

The Court of Appeal was quick to conclude that being too ill to carry out a high-level, high-pressure job didn’t mean that one was likewise incapable of going on holiday.

It was also unimpressed by FL’s complaint that, while claiming under the policy, Mr Miley had attended a “beer festival”, instead preferring to quote this from the first instance judgment:

” … In so far as the notion of a beer festival might, to the uninitiated, conjure up images of the participants cavorting in lederhosen whilst brandishing overflowing beer steins in scenes of infectious Bavarian gaiety, they must be dispelled. In reality, this was a rather understated affair in which patrons of the local public house were given the leisurely opportunity to sample a range of craft beers.”

It was hardly a surprise that this ground of the appeal failed. Instead, the Court of Appeal held that Mr Miley’s account of the severity of his illness, in his periodic communications with FL, had been entirely accurate.

Under-declaration of Income

FL’s second ground seemed, from a “black letter” perspective, more promising. In two years in which he claimed on the policy, Mr Miley hadn’t disclosed very substantial sums represented by the vesting of shares, which he had received as part of his annual bonus while still working at his investment bank.

Mr Miley relied on the fact that the relevant forms which he supplied to FL each year while claiming on the policy didn’t require him to disclose “income from investments”.

One might have questioned – as FL certainly did – whether that was an apt description for Mr Miley’s receipt of these shares. However, the Court of Appeal was in no mood to accept that argument. Indeed, in the form of McCombe LJ, who gave the only judgement, it was highly critical of how the point had emerged at the trial in the first place:

“I have mentioned what I see as the unsatisfactory manner in which this issue arose at trial. There was no specific indication made anywhere in the pleadings or written arguments before trial that FL were relying upon a misstatement of income by Mr Miley…. The matter only arose when the subject was sprung upon Mr Miley in cross-examination. ..

 I note that no objection was taken to the unexpected line of questioning. However, I question whether the failure to make any mention of this subject in the pre-trial materials was consistent with the “cards on the table” approach encouraged by the Civil Procedure Rules. More particularly, the material deployed was being used to found a case based on alleged fraud. Such allegations are customarily required to be “distinctly alleged and as distinctly proved”. That principle was not applied in relation to this matter in FL’s pleading in the present case.”

With that as the backdrop, not only did the Court of Appeal hold that Mr Miley genuinely didn’t think his receipt of the shares needed to be disclosed, it went further and held that he was correct in that regard. It was prepared to accept that in common parlance the shares might have been described as “investments”. And it also said their vesting could be categorised as “income” since, under the relevant tax legislation, they were deemed to constitute income and were taxed accordingly.

Coda

One doesn’t know, given how unimpressed was the Court of Appeal with FL’s appeal, Mr Miley has sought his costs on the indemnity basis. But the moral – don’t try bolstering a difficult case with tactics which just annoy the Judges.

Jonathan Corman is partner at Fenchurch Law