Lying politicians and why the rest of us need documents

Posted: Monday, 6 December 2010 @ 19:56
What surprised me most about the news story of MP Phil Woolas losing his seat for lying is the number of politicians who came forward to say that lying is just a part of the “rough and tumble” of electioneering. Do we, as a society, really think it’s OK to lie in public?

As a litigation solicitor with considerable court experience, I have seen many individuals lie in the witness box or, as their lawyers will usually put it, “being mistaken”. That’s why most of the court process (and expense) is all about testing what people say with evidence, and the preferred evidence is a document. Documents are certainly worth a thousand words when it comes to the court system; if a document says one thing, and a witness says another, then nine times out of ten, the document prevails.

But, it doesn’t just stop there. Judges often make decisions based on a lack of documentation. Something that’s often heard in the commercial courts is, “If you had varied the contract, as you allege, then surely you would have confirmed that in writing?” Although the law says that contracts, and variations of contracts, can be oral, in practice the law of the courtroom is usually “no writing, no variation”.

And it’s not just commercial contracts where this is important. Board decisions, directors’ declarations and board approvals should all be in writing. Don’t worry so much about how to write formal minutes, just note what was decided and then file it.

It’s very easy nowadays to write an email confirming your understanding of things. Making it a regular habit can save a lot of worry, money and time further down the line – and help you win legal cases. Just remember, if you’re ever involved in litigation, you’ll have to prove that what you say is the truth, and you’ll need something in writing to do that.

And, as for MPs, I believe that deliberate lying is totally unacceptable. We, the voters, don’t routinely test every allegation made by a campaigning MP. We have to rely on what they say when we make our decisions. So, if anything, we should expect higher levels of integrity than we do of witnesses in a courtroom.

But, then again, maybe I’m just being naive.
Blog by Gary Cousins
Gary has been providing legal advice to shareholders, directors and business owners for over 25 years. Specialising in dispute resolution Gary is based in Birmingham with clients throughout the UK and overseas. View profile
Call Gary on +44 (0)121 778 3212 or by email
This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

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