Documented "Prior Inconsistent Statements" Need To Be Listed Under the New Rules of Court

Reasons for judgement were released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with document listing obligations under the new Rules of Court.
In last week’s case (Tran v. Kim Le Holdings Ltd.) the Plaintiff sued for damages as a result of personal injuries.  In the course of trial the Defendant called a witness who gave evidence as to the circumstances of the Plaintiff’s injury which were not favourable to the Plaintiff’s case.  The same witness had provided the Plaintiff’s lawyer a statement years before the trial with a different version of events.  The Plaintiff failed to disclose the existence of this document in her list of documents.  The Plaintiff argued that the new Rules of Court don’t require such statements to be listed as they only go to credibility which is a collateral matter.
Mr. Justice Harris disagreed finding that statements containing prior witness inconsistencies can go beyond the issue of credibility and therefore need to be listed.  The Court provided the following reasons:

[13] Counsel submits, first, that a prior inconsistent statement is not a document that could be used to prove or disprove a material fact. It is a document relevant only to credibility. Therefore, it is not required to be listed. Secondly, counsel submits that until the contradictory evidence was given by the witness, counsel had no intention of using the document at trial. The use of the document has only become necessary because of the surprise in the evidence that was given.

[14] I turn to deal with this point. I must say that I am sceptical that the plaintiff’s argument is correct. It is common ground that the document here is covered by litigation privilege, which necessarily ties it into relevant issues in the litigation. Rule 7?1(6) governs the listing of privileged documents. It is not obvious to me from the wording of the rule that the scope of the obligation set out in Rule 7?1(6) is qualified or limited by Rule 7?1(1).

[15] More importantly, however, prior inconsistent statements can be used, in my view, to prove or disprove material facts. Depending on how a witness responds to the statement when put to the witness, the effect of the use of the statement may well go beyond merely affecting credibility. The witness may adopt the content of the statement insofar as it relates to material facts; in that sense, at least, statements can facilitate the proof of material facts. Statements can facilitate the proof of material facts even if the witness does not adopt them, because findings on material facts may be affected by findings on credibility. But if a witness does adopt a prior inconsistent statement and accept the truth of it, that statement may be used as proof of the truth of its contents, and thereby be used to prove or disprove material facts.

[16] A fine parsing of the obligation to list documents is, in my view, contrary to the policy of disclosure which is exemplified by the Stone decision in the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Justice Harris agreed that while the document should have been listed, it could be used in cross examination as the failure to list was done in good faith and further there was no real prejudice to the Defendant.  In doing so the  Court applied the following factors in exercising its discretion:

[19] What is clear, however, from these cases is that my discretion has to be exercised on the basis of the following principles:

(a)      whether there is prejudice to the party being cross-examined ?? in this case, of course, it is a witness who is being cross-examined, but the relevant prejudice is to the defendants;

(b)      whether a reasonable explanation of the party’s failure to disclose has been provided;

(c)      whether excluding the document would prevent the determination of the issue on its merits; and

(d)      whether, in the circumstances of the case, the ends of justice require the documents to be admitted.

[24] It is evident that there is a policy against insulating a witness from cross-examination on prior inconsistent statements, because to do so would undermine the search for truth. It is also evident that requiring listing can be seen in some respects as being inconsistent with the purpose of litigation privilege. Both of these points were accepted in the Cahoon decision, in the context of a discussion of the limitation, or explanation, of the scope of the Stone decision…

[33] I observe further, with respect to prejudice, that the defendants could readily have determined whether or not the witness had given a statement. The fact of the existence of the statement was within the knowledge of the defendants. It is not a situation quite like Stone where there would simply be an assumption by counsel that a pain journal had likely been kept and that the fact of the existence of the document could not be verified without the document having been listed. In my view, this mitigates the prejudice, to some degree, that is associated with the use of the document.

[34] Weighing and balancing these conflicting principles, I have reached the conclusion that, in the interests of justice, counsel ought to be permitted to use the document for the purpose of cross-examination.

bc injury law, Mr. Justice Harris, prior inconsistent statements, privilege, Rule 7, Rule 7-1, Rule 7-1(1), Rule 7-1(21), Rule 7-1(6), Tran v. Kim Le Holdings Ltd.

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ERIK
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When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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