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High Court upholds refusal by judge to admit witness statement from council officer in eviction proceedings brought by housing association

The High Court has dismissed an application to overturn a judge’s refusal to allow tenants to rely on a witness statement from a council officer in eviction proceedings brought by a housing association.

In Bromford Housing Association Ltd v Nightingale [2020] Mr Justice Cavanagh ruled that HHJ Hedley had not made an error in deciding that residents Kevin and Caroline Nightingale could not rely on the statement.

Bromford Housing Association was seeking to evict the Nightingales for anti-social behaviour mainly perpetrated by their children.

The statement was made by Babra Ushewekunze, housing options officer for South Northamptonshire Council, at the final hearing of the possession proceedings.

Ms Ushewekunze had attended a hearing as an observer and had provided a short handwritten witness statement following a conversation with the Nightingales’ legal advisers.

This though had been served after the deadline for exchange of witness statements and HHJ Hedley refused to permit them to rely on it.

Ms Ushewekunze had not been asked by either party to attend court or to give evidence.

In the written statement she indicated the local authority's position in relation to rehousing tenants evicted for anti-social behaviour and her view that it would be virtually impossible for the Nightingales to be rehoused in the local private sector if they were evicted for this reason.

The Nightingales argued the court should use its residual discretion to permit the evidence to be put, as there were understandable reasons for the delay, though not ‘good’ ones.

Cavanagh J said HHJ Hedley had been “fully entitled to take the view that no real purpose would be served by the admission of Ms Ushewekunze's statement into evidence” since it covered ground raised elsewhere in the case.

He said it was irrelevant that, if the statement had been admitted, it would not have caused an issue with the time estimate of the final hearing.

“The point is that the evidence which the [Nightingales] sought to adduce was of no real significance,” Cavanagh J said.

Mark Smulian

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