I do love it when I learn something new.
This is a case decided by a Circuit Judge, Her Honour Judge Taylor, in a case where a woman had lied to a man as to whether he was the biological father of her child. He was then suing her for deceit.
[I confess my ignorance, I didn’t know that you could sue someone for deceit. Helpfully, HH Judge Taylor sets out all of the relevant law, so now I not only know that the concept exists, but what you need to prove]
X v Y 2015
I can already hear, as I type this, the sound of readers ears pricking up at the idea of being able to sue for deceit. [We have discussed before that you can’t sue for defamation for anything that someone says in Court or puts in a Court statement, and that a criminal prosecution for perjury is (a) difficult, and (b) not the decision of the victim, but of the Director of Public Prosecutions. So is suing for deceit a remedy? We shall see]
The law and deceit
45 Following the cases of P v B  1 FLR 1041 and A v B  EWHC 1248 QB, followed in Rodwell v Rodwell , it is clear that the cause of action in deceit may arise in cases such as this in a domestic context.
46 In A v B at para.43 Blofeld J set out the ingredients of deceit.
(1) a representation by words of conduct. [Suess note, I think that is a typo and it should be ‘or’ conduct. meaning that you could give rise to a deceit action by semaphore, or more realistically that when asked a direct question the person nodded, shook their head, or put their thumbs up or some obvious gesture of that kind…]
(2) Secondly, that representation must be untrue to the knowledge of the maker at the time the representation was made.
(3) Thirdly, the maker must make the representation by fraud, either deliberately or recklessly, in the sense that he or she could not care whether the representation was true or not.
(4) Fourthly, the representation must be made with the intention that it should be acted upon by the claimant.
(5) Fifthly, it must be proved the claimant acted upon the fraudulent misrepresentation and therefore suffered damage.
(1) that the other person said something
(2) that when they said it, they knew it wasn’t true
(3) that there was either intention, or recklessness that you might believe it
(4) That they MEANT you to do something as a result of believing it, and that you acted on what the person said (i.e you didn’t just believe it, that belief caused you to do something about it)
(5) That those actions caused you loss or harm
So, for the immediate question on your lips “If a social worker tells lies about me, can I sue them for deceit?” I think that the fourth ingredient is the problematic one. In order to sue for deceit, you need to show that not only was there a lie, but that you believed it. And that you did something as a result of believing it. If you never believed the lie, then you weren’t deceived.
You can only sue for deceit if the person successfully deceived you. A lie is different to a deceit – telling a lie that you didn’t believe isn’t a deceit, it is an unsuccessful attempt to deceive.
[It might be possible to construct such a case – that the social worker told a lie about mum, dad believed it, dad did something as a result, and dad suffered loss. Or I suppose the section 20 style case where a parent is told that it will just be for a few days and having signed the agreement never gets the child back]
In this particular case, the couple had made use of a fertility clinic. The man had had a vasectomy, but had taken the precaution of having his sperm frozen before the procedure. He had been told by the woman that she, with his consent, had used his sperm to conceive a child through the fertility clinic. In fact, she had not. The sperm used had been another mans. DNA testing later proved that the child was not his. The man had made maintenance payments to the woman for this child.
The woman’s case was that she had taken two samples to the clinic, one from the man and one from another person and that she had not known which sample was used – so she had not been honest with the man that there was a possibility that the child was not his, but had not lied to him because she did not know that he definitely was not the father.
The Judge held that the ingredients for a claim of deceit were all made out.
84. On the facts of this case where I have found there has been clear deceit and fraud in relation to the agreement, in my judgment it is right that the court order repayment of these sums which are not for the benefit of Z. The sum claimed in respect of these payments for maintenance to Y is £22,845 plus interest which has been calculated to date at £2,476 making a total of £25,321.
- Consequently, the sums that I award are the sum of £10,000 of general damages plus £4,000 in respect of the loss of earning capacity and the £25,321 inclusive of interest in relation to the maintenance of the property.