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 circumstances as an aid to construction of an agreement which results from the negotiations, should be admissible by way of exception to the without prejudice rule.
Held: The question should be answered ‘Yes’, and the appeal allowed. The application of the without prejudice rule is now wider than it had been, and its boundaries should not be whittled away too readily. However, ‘No sensible line can be drawn between admitting without prejudice communications in order to resolve the issue of whether they have resulted in a concluded compromise agreement and admitting them in order to resolve the issue of what that agreement was.’ Lord Clarke could see ‘no reason why the ordinary principles governing the interpretation of a settlement agreement should be any different regardless of whether the negotiations which led to it were without prejudice. The language should be construed in the same way and the question . . should be the same, namely what a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would have been available to the parties would have understood them to be using the language in the contract to mean.’
Lord Phillips, President, Lord Rodger, Lord Walker, Lord Brown, Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Sir John Dyson SCJ
 UKSC 44,  1 All ER (Comm) 1,  3 WLR 1424,  4 All ER 1011,  1 Lloyd’s Rep 96, UKSC 2010/0039
Bailii, Bailii Summary, SC, SC Summary
England and Wales
At first Instance – Oceanbulk Shipping and Trading Sa v TMT Asia Ltd and Others ComC 29-Jul-2009
The parties disputed the admissibility in a dispute about the effect of a settlement agreement of evidence of without prejudice exchanges between the parties before it was signed. . .
Appeal From – 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 – Walker v Wilsher CA 1889
Letters or conversations which were written or declared to be ‘without prejudice’ may not be taken into consideration in determining whether there is good cause for depriving a successful litigant of his costs.
Lord Esher MR said: ‘The letters . .
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 – Muller and Another v Linsley and Mortimer (A Firm) CA 8-Dec-1994
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 . .
Cited – Rush and Tompkins Ltd v Greater London Council and Another HL 1988
Use of ‘Without Prejudice Save as to Costs”
A sub-contractor sought payment from the appellants under a construction contract for additional expenses incurred through disruption and delay. The appellants said they were liable to pay the costs, and were entitled to re-imbursement from the . .
Cited – Unilever plc v Procter and Gamble Company CA 4-Nov-1999
The defendant’s negotiators had asserted in an expressly ‘without prejudice’ meeting, that the plaintiff was infringing its patent and they threatened to bring an action for infringement. The plaintiff sought to bring a threat action under section . .
Cited – Westminster City Council v National Asylum Support Service HL 17-Oct-2002
The applicant sought assistance from the local authority. He suffered from spinal myeloma, was destitute and an asylum seeker.
Held: Although the Act had withdrawn the obligation to provide assistance for many asylum seekers, those who were . .
Cited – Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society HL 19-Jun-1997
Account taken of circumstances wihout ambiguity
The respondent gave advice on home income plans. The individual claimants had assigned their initial claims to the scheme, but later sought also to have their mortgages in favour of the respondent set aside.
Held: Investors having once . .
Cited – Chartbrook Ltd v Persimmon Homes Ltd and Others HL 1-Jul-2009
Mutual Knowledge admissible to construe contract
The parties had entered into a development contract in respect of a site in Wandsworth, under which balancing compensation was to be paid. They disagreed as to its calculation. Persimmon sought rectification to reflect the negotiations.
Held: . .
Cited – 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 – Britoil plc v Hunt Overseas Oil Inc CA 1994
After the failure of the attempt by the Texan oil tycoon, Nelson Bunker Hunt, in the 1970s to corner the world silver market, his fortune collapsed and his companies were forced to sell off assets. In 1979 two of those companies (the defendants in . .
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.
Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.425582