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 section 29.
Held: The letter should not be admitted. Any admission in the first letter could not be treated as a continuing acknowledgement, and it could not now be relied upon. The House emphasised the vital importance of the without prejudice system.
Lord Hope said: ‘Where a letter is written ‘without prejudice’ during negotiations with a view to a compromise, the protection that these words claim will be given to it unless the other party can show that there is a good reason for not doing so.’ and ‘The essence of it lies in the nature of the protection that is given to parties when they are attempting to negotiate a compromise. It is the ability to speak freely that indicates where the limits of the rule should lie. Far from being mechanistic, the rule is generous in its application. It recognises that unseen dangers may lurk behind things said or written during this period, and it removes the inhibiting effect that this may have in the interests of promoting attempts to achieve a settlement. It is not to be defeated by other considerations of public policy which may emerge later, such as those suggested in this case, that would deny them that protection.’
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said: ‘it is that parties and their representatives who are trying to settle a dispute should be able to negotiate openly, without having to worry that what they say may be used against them subsequently, whether in their current dispute or in some different situation.’
Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe agreed with Lord Rodger and said: ‘As a matter of principle I would not restrict the without prejudice rule unless justice clearly demands it. In England the rule has developed vigorously (more vigorously, probably, than in other common law jurisdictions, and more vigorously than some overseas scholars, notably J H Wigmore approved.)’

Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
[2009] UKHL 16, [2009] 2 WLR 749, [2009] 2 All ER 223, [2009] 11 EG 119, [2009] NPC 40, [2009] 1 WLR 718, [2009] 2 Cr App R 2, [2009] 1 AC 990
Bailii, Times, HL
Limitation Act 1980& 29(2)
England and Wales
CitedWhiffen v Hartwright 15-Apr-1848
The court refused to order the production of letters which had passed ‘without prejudice’. Lord Langdale MR observed that he ‘did not see how the plaintiff could get over this express agreement, though he did not agree, that the right of discovery . .
CitedWaldridge v Kennison 1794
A without prejudice admission that a document was in the handwriting of one of the parties was received in evidence because it was independent of the merits of the case. . .
CitedJones v Foxall CA 27-Mar-1852
Romilly MR deplored attempts to convert offers of compromise into admissions of acts prejudicial to the party making them, saying: ‘I find that the offers were in fact made without prejudice to the rights of the parties; and I shall, as far as I am . .
Appeal fromOfulue and Another v Bossert CA 29-Jan-2008
The claimants appealed an order finding that the defendant had acquired their land by adverse possession. They said that the defendant had asserted in defence to possession proceedings that they were tenants, and that this contradicted an intent to . .
CitedHoghton v Hoghton CA 16-Apr-1852
When a person has made a large voluntary disposition the burden is thrown on the party benefitting to show that the disposition was made fairly and honestly and in full understanding of the nature and consequences of the transaction. Romilly MR . .
CitedIn 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 . .
CitedBradford 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 . .
CitedTomlin v Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd CA 1969
Without prejudice material can be admitted if the issue is whether or not the negotiations resulted in an agreed settlement. Without considering the communications in question it would be impossible to decide whether there was a concluded settlement . .
CitedUnilever 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 . .
LimitedMuller 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 . .
CitedRush and Tomkins Ltd v Greater London Council HL 3-Nov-1988
The parties had entered into contracts for the construction of dwellings. The contractors sought payment. The council alleged shortcomings in the works. The principal parties had settled the dispute, but a sub-contractor now sought disclosure of the . .
CitedCutts 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 . .
CitedWhiffen v Hartwright 15-Apr-1848
The court refused to order the production of letters which had passed ‘without prejudice’. Lord Langdale MR observed that he ‘did not see how the plaintiff could get over this express agreement, though he did not agree, that the right of discovery . .

Cited by:
CitedKohli 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 . .
CitedOceanbulk 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 . .
CitedOceanbulk 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 . .
CitedBerkeley 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.

Limitation, Litigation Practice, Evidence

Leading Case

Updated: 10 December 2021; Ref: scu.317966