Mulholland v Mitchell: HL 1971

The House was asked whether to re-open an assessment of damages where there had been a very marked change in the injured person’s situation shortly after the trial. There was no suggestion of fraud. The Court of Appeal had decided to admit the fresh evidence with a view to reassessing the damages.
Held: The appeal was dismissed. The circumstances were exceptional. The exercise by the Court of Appeal of its discretion to admit fresh evidence as to matters arising after the date of the trial was largely a matter of discretion and degree. The principle that there should be finality in litigation should be borne in mind and evidence could not be admitted of every change which might have occurred since trial.
Lord Hodson said: ‘In this case I think that it can be fairly argued that the basis upon which the case was decided at the trial was suddenly and materially falsified by a dramatic change of circumstances.
An appeal on the whole question of damages is pending and it would be unsatisfactory for the Court of Appeal to deal with that appeal without taking into account the falsification, if such there be, of the basis of the trial judge’s award. In the absence of the fresh evidence, the Court of Appeal would be restrained from dealing with the reality of the case before it.’
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘I do not think that, in the end, much more can usefully be said than, in the words of my noble and learned friend, Lord Pearson, that the matter is one of discretion and degree ( Murphy [1969] 1 WLR 1023, 1036). Negatively, fresh evidence ought not to be admitted when it bears upon matters falling within the field or area of uncertainty, in which the trial judges’s estimate has previously been made. Positively, it may be admitted if some basic assumptions, common to both sides, have clearly been falsified by subsequent events, particularly if this has happened by the act of the defendant. Positively, too, it may be expected that courts will allow fresh evidence when to refuse it would affront common sense, or a sense of justice. All these are only non-exhaustive indications; the application of them, and their like, must be left to the Court of Appeal. The exceptional character of cases in which fresh evidence is allowed is fully recognised by that Court.’
Lord Pearson explained the usual position saying: ‘The normal rule in accident cases is that the sum of damages falls to be assessed once and for all at the time of the hearing. When the assessment is made, the court has to make the best assessment it can as to events which may happen in the future. If further evidence as to the new events were too easily admitted, there would be no finality in litigation.’


Lord Hodson, Lord Wilberforce, Lord Pearson


[1971] AC 666, [1971] 1 WLR 93

Cited by:

See AlsoMitchell v Mulholland (No. 2) CA 1972
The plaintiff was severely injured, and recovered substantial damages. andpound;20,000 for pain and suffering and loss of amenity, and andpound;21,350 for nursing care. The court declined to adjust the award for anticipated inflation: ‘an award of . .
CitedSecretary of State for Trade and Industry v Paulin ChD 13-May-2005
The director sought to appeal an order disqualifying him form acting as a company director.
Held: The disqualification proceedings were properly charactised as insolvency proceedings and therefore there was no requirement for permission to . .
CitedVernon v Bosley (3) CA 19-Dec-1996
The plaintiff claimed damages for acute stress after failing to rescue his two daughters in an accident caused by the defendant. After the accident, he became involved in family proceedings concerning custody of other children. Medical reports used . .
CitedOwens v Noble CA 10-Mar-2010
The respondent had been awarded substantial damages after an accident for which the appellant was responsible. The appellant now said that the claimant had exaggerated his injuries and misled the judge. The defendant argued that the correct approach . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.225441