The plaintiff sued his former solicitors for professional negligence. The damages he sought to recover related to loss he suffered when dismissed as a director of a private company leading to a forced sale of his shares in the company. The plaintiff had sued the other shareholders but the action was settled after without prejudice negotiations. In his action against the solicitors the plaintiff pleaded that the settlement of his action against the other shareholders had represented a reasonable attempt to mitigate his loss. The solicitors then sought discovery of the without prejudice documents that had led to the settlement.
Held: Without Prejudice correspondence was to be admitted in evidence when it was not relied on for an admission. A letter which was ‘Without Prejudice’ in one action, may not be privileged in another. The relationship between the without prejudice rule and the other rules of evidence, is that the privilege operates as an exception to the general rule on admissions (itself an exception to the rule against hearsay) that the statement or conduct of a party is always admissible against him to prove any fact which is thereby expressly or impliedly asserted or admitted. The public policy aspect of the rule is not concerned with the admissibility of statements which are relevant otherwise than as admissions, ie independently of the truth of the facts alleged to have been admitted.
Hoffmann LJ said ‘Cutts v Head shows that the rule has two justifications. Firstly, the public policy of encouraging parties to negotiate and settle their disputes out of court and, secondly, an implied agreement arising out of what is commonly understood to be the consequences of offering or agreeing to negotiate without prejudice. In some cases both of these justifications are present; in others, only one or the other.’ and
Without prejudice correspondence was admissible to prove that a party was acting reasonably in settling a claim against a third party. The rule ‘ operates as an exception to the general rule on admissions (which can itself be regarded as an exception to the rule against hearsay) that the statement or conduct of a party is always admissible against him to prove any fact which is thereby expressly or impliedly asserted or admitted. The public policy aspect of the rule is not in my judgment concerned with the admissibility of statements which are relevant otherwise than as admissions, i.e. independently of the truth of the facts alleged to have been admitted. Many of the alleged exceptions to the rule will be found on analysis to be cases in which the relevance of the communication lies not in the truth of any fact which it asserts or admits, but simply in the fact that it was made. Thus, when the issue is whether without prejudice letters have resulted in an agreed settlement, the correspondence is admissible because the relevance of the letters has nothing to do with the truth of any facts which the writers may have expressly or impliedly admitted. They are relevant because they contain the offer and acceptance forming a contract which has replaced the cause of action previously in dispute. . . Indeed, I think that the only case in which the rule has been held to preclude the use of without prejudice communications, otherwise than as admissions, is in the rule that an offer may not be used on the question of costs; a rule which . . has been held to rest purely upon convention and not upon public policy.’
Hoffmann LJ, Swinton Thomas and Leggatt LLJ
Gazette 18-Jan-1995, Times 08-Dec-1994,  PNLR 74,  EWCA Civ 39
England and Wales
Cited – Cutts v Head and Another CA 7-Dec-1983
There had been a trial of 35 days regarding rights of way over land, which had proved fruitless, and where some orders had been made without jurisdiction. The result had been inconclusive. The costs order was now appealed, the plaintiff complaining . .
Cited – In Re Daintrey, Ex Parte Holt QBD 8-May-1893
The court was asked whether a letter could be admitted in evidence and relied upon as an act of bankruptcy. The letter was sent by the debtor to the creditor at a time when there was no dispute, headed ‘without prejudice’. It contained an offer of . .
Cited – Berry Trade Ltd and Another v Moussavi and others CA 22-May-2003
A defendant appealed against an order admitting as evidence, records of ‘without prejudice’ conversations.
Held: Written and oral communications, which are made for the purpose of a genuine attempt to compromise a dispute between the parties, . .
Cited – Prudential Insurance Company of America v Prudential Assurance Company Ltd CA 31-Jul-2003
The appellant sought to restrain the use in proceedings in New Zealand and elsewhere of ‘without prejudice’ documents discovered in court proceedings here.
Held: It was not sensible to elide the distinction between the two sources of . .
Cited – Reed Executive Plc, Reed Solutions Plc v Reed Business Information Ltd, Reed Elsevier (Uk) Ltd, Totaljobs.Com Ltd CA 14-Jul-2004
Walker v Wilshire still Good Law
After successfully appealing, the defendant claimant argued for a substantial part of its costs, saying that the defendant had unreasonably refused ADR. To pursue this, it now sought disclosure of the details of the without prejudice negotiations . .
Cited – Bradford and Bingley Plc v Rashid CA 22-Jul-2005
The claimant sought recovery of a shortfall having sold the defendant’s house for a sum insufficient to clear the mortgage debt, and produced two letters which they claimed acknowledged the debt and restarted the limitation period running. The . .
Cited – Bradford and Bingley Plc v Rashid HL 12-Jul-2006
Disapplication of Without Prejudice Rules
The House was asked whether a letter sent during without prejudice negotiations which acknowledged a debt was admissible to restart the limitation period. An advice centre, acting for the borrower had written, in answer to a claim by the lender for . .
Cited – Brown v Rice and Another ChD 14-Mar-2007
The parties, the bankrupt and her trustee, had engaged in a mediation which failed at first, but applicant said an agreement was concluded on the day following. The defendants denied this, and the court as asked to determine whether a settlement had . .
Limited – Ofulue and Another v Bossert HL 11-Mar-2009
The parties disputed ownership of land, one claiming adverse possession. In the course of negotations, the possessor made a without prejudice offer to purchase the paper owner’s title. The paper owner claimed that this was an acknowledgement under . .
Cited – Kohli v Lit and Others ChD 13-Nov-2009
The claimant asserted that the other shareholders had acted in a manner unfairly prejudicial to her within the company.
Held: The claimant was allowed to bring in without prejudice correspondence to contradict evidence by the defendant which . .
Cited – Oceanbulk Shipping and Trading Sa v TMT Asia Ltd CA 15-Feb-2010
The parties had settled their disagreement, but now disputed the interpretation of the settlement. The defendant sought to be allowed to give in evidence correspondence leading up to the settlement which had been conducted on a without prejudice . .
Cited – Oceanbulk Shipping and Trading Sa v TMT Asia Ltd and Others SC 27-Oct-2010
The court was asked whether facts which (a) are communicated between the parties in the course of without prejudice negotiations and (b) would, but for the without prejudice rule, be admissible as part of the factual matrix or surrounding . .
Cited – Farm Assist Ltd v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (No 2) TCC 19-May-2009
The mediator who had acted in attempting to resolve the dispute between the parties sought to have set aside a witness summons issued by the claimant who sought to have the mediated agreement set aside for economic duress.
Held: In this case . .
Cited – Berkeley Square Holdings and Others v Lancer Property Asset Management Ltd and Others ChD 1-May-2020
Application by the Claimants to strike out parts of the Defence as an abuse of process and an application by the Defendants to amend their Defence. However, both applications turn on the question whether certain facts on which the Defendants seek to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Litigation Practice, Evidence
Updated: 10 December 2021; Ref: scu.84120