Tag: Rule 7-1(21)

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.

Excluding Prejudicial Evidence in BC Civil Claims


One exception to the general rule that relevant evidence should be admitted in a civil trial deals with prejudice.  If the prejudicial effect of relevant evidence outweighs it’s probative value a trial judge has the discretion of excluding it.  The BC Court of Appeal recently discussed this principle in the context of an ICBC claim.
In today’s case (Gray v. ICBC) the Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle collision.  She was allegedly at fault for this crash and was sued by the driver and passenger in the other vehicle involved in the collision.  The Plaintiff was insured with ICBC.  ICBC denied coverage to the Plaintiff arguing that she was impaired at the time of the crash and therefore in breach of her insurance.  The Plaintiff sued ICBC arguing she was not impaired and that ICBC was required to provide her coverage.
After the crash the Plaintiff was given a breathalyzer test by the Vancouver Police Department and her test yielded readings well above the legal limit.  At trial the Plaintiff argued that the breathalyzer readings were faulty because the machine was not set up properly.  ICBC responded with expert evidence stating that “there is nothing to indicate that the Breath Test Supervisor did not set up this instrument correctly“.   The Plaintiff countered pointing out that there was nothing in the police files indicating what set up steps were taken by the Breathalyzer Supervisor.  This left ICBC scrambling and in the course of trial they were able to locate the Breathalyzer Supervisor and the notes detailing the set up steps that were taken at the relevant time.
The Plaintiff objected to this evidence being introduced arguing that it’s late disclosure was severely prejudicial.  The trial judge agreed.  The Court held that while the supervisor could testify he could not rely on  or refer to the breathalyzer maintenance notes in giving his evidence.  Ultimately the Plaintiff succeeded at trial with the judge finding that she was not in breach of her insurance.  ICBC appealed arguing the trial judge was wrong in excluding the evidence.  The BC Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial.  In doing so the BC High Court provided the following reasons about the exclusion of prejudicial evidence:
As Mr. Justice Wood said, speaking for this Court in Anderson (Guardian ad litem) v. Erickson (1992), 71 B.C.L.R. (2d) 68 (C.A.), “There is no doubt that a Judge trying a civil case in Canada has a discretion to exclude relevant evidence on the ground that its prejudicial effect outweighs its probative value”…

[27]         In my view, the trial judge erred in her approach to the exclusion of the documentary evidence prepared by Mr. Czech. In exercising her discretion, she was required to balance the probative value of the evidence against the potential prejudice to Ms. Gray of its admission and to make a judgment whether the prejudice outweighed the probative value. It is apparent that she did not undertake this exercise. Rather, she excluded the evidence after balancing the prejudice to the respondent, Ms. Gray, if the evidence were admitted against the prejudice to the appellants if it were excluded. Thus, she erred in principle in her approach and in failing to take into account a critically important factor – the probative value of the impugned evidence. It follows that she did not exercise her discretion judicially.

[28]         Moreover, the trial judge erred in prohibiting Mr. Czech from using his records to refresh his memory. Witnesses are entitled to refresh their memory by any means, including by inadmissible evidence: see R. v. Fliss, 2002 SCC 16, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 535.

Interestingly the BC Court of Appeal did not determine whether the evidence should have been excluded, rather that the wrong test was used.  The Court directed a new trial requiring the correct principle to be applied in deciding whether the evidence should be admitted.

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

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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