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Pressurising a witness - the extent of judicial proceedings immunity

School gate iStock 000003257894XSmall 146x219The Court of Appeal has recently considered the extent of judicial proceedings immunity in an employment dispute where an ex-headteacher alleged that undue pressure had been placed on a witness. Gareth Edwards examines the ruling.

For public policy reasons individuals cannot be sued for what they say and do in judicial proceedings. This is known as 'judicial proceedings immunity'.

The Court of Appeal has held that judicial proceedings immunity does not stretch to cover the placement of undue pressure on a witness to produce a witness statement during proceedings – the method of obtaining witness evidence can be separated from the evidence itself. 

In Singh v Moorlands Primary School, Ms Singh brought a discrimination claim against her employer, Moorlands Primary School. During the proceedings the school sought and obtained a witness statement from one of Ms Singh's colleagues. Following exchange of witness statements Ms Singh resigned on the basis of an alleged breach of trust and confidence by the school. The breach of trust and confidence alleged by Ms Singh related to undue pressure allegedly placed on the witness to produce a statement of "untruths". Ms Singh brought a claim for constructive dismissal.

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The school argued that Ms Singh was not entitled to base a claim on its alleged conduct in relation to the witness because such conduct was captured by judicial proceedings immunity.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and held that undue pressure to produce a witness statement was a freestanding act separate from the content of the witness statement itself. Whilst false evidence within a statement is the subject of judicial proceedings immunity, extraneous pressure as alleged in this case is not.

Best practice

The case highlights the need for employers to adopt a careful and cautious approach in preparing their witnesses and witness evidence. The evidence that witnesses produce during proceedings will be protected by judicial proceedings immunity but other conduct around the production of evidence will not be protected and may compound the issues faced by parties to litigation giving rise to potential constructive unfair dismissal cases and allegations of discrimination and victimisation.

Gareth Edwards is a partner at Veale Wasbrough Vizards. He can be contacted on 0117 314 5220 or by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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