Judicial assessments of witness credibility

Posted: 27th June 2017

SignatureJudges can and do make mistakes, but their evaluation of factual evidence and the credibility of witnesses is usually final and is very rarely successfully challenged. The point could hardly have been more clearly made than by one case in which a man claimed that his signature on a property transfer had been forged.

The dispute concerned a plot of development land that had initially been held jointly by the man and his former business partner. After their ways parted, the land was transferred to a company owned by the partner and ultimately to the partner himself.

The man claimed that his signature on the initial transfer was a forgery and that he had thus retained a beneficial interest in the land. In rejecting his claim, however, a judge accepted the partner’s explanation as to why the transfer had been agreed and the evidence of a witness who had seen the document being signed.

In challenging the decision before the High Court, the man argued that the judge’s acceptance of implausible evidence amounted to an error of law. However, in rejecting his appeal, the Court noted that he bore the burden of proving that his signature was not genuine. Elements of the judge’s decision did not withstand scrutiny, but it was for him to assess the witnesses’ veracity.