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 client, the respondent. The claim was compromised but without disclosing the detail underlying the sum agreed. The sub-contractor then claimed an additional sum, and sought disclosure of documents which had passed between the parties. The appellants claimed the protection of the ‘without prejudice’ rule.
Held: The Court will not permit the phrase to be used to exclude an act of bankruptcy or to suppress a threat if an offer is not accepted. The exception for offers expressly made ‘without prejudice except as to costs’ was recognised to be based on an express or implied agreement between the parties.
Lord Griffiths said: ‘The rule applies to exclude all negotiations genuinely aimed at settlement whether oral or in writing from being given in evidence. A competent solicitor will always head any negotiating correspondence ‘without prejudice’ to make clear beyond doubt that in the event of the negotiations being unsuccessful they are not to be referred to at the subsequent trial. However, the application of the rule is not dependent upon the use of the phrase ‘without prejudice’ and if it is clear from the surrounding circumstances that the parties were seeking to compromise the action, evidence of the content of those negotiations will, as a general rule, not be admissible at the trial and cannot be used to establish an admission or partial admission. I cannot therefore agree with the Court of Appeal that the problem in the present case should be resolved by a linguistic approach to the meaning of the phrase ‘ without prejudice ‘. I believe that the question has to be looked at more broadly and resolved by balancing two different public interests namely the public interest in promoting settlements and the public interest in full discovery between parties to litigation.’
However: ‘These cases show that the rule is not absolute and resort may be had to the ‘without prejudice’ material for a variety of reasons when the justice of the case requires it. It is unnecessary to make any deep examination of these authorities to resolve the present appeal but they all illustrate the underlying purpose of the rule which is to protect a litigant from being embarrassed by any admission made purely in an attempt to achieve a settlement.’
Lord Griffiths said: ‘The ‘without prejudice’ rule is ‘a rule governing the admissibility of evidence founded on the public policy of encouraging litigants to settle their differences rather than litigate them to a finish’. To try to identify admissions and withhold protection from the rest of without prejudice communications would be contrary to the objective of giving protection to the parties ‘to speak freely about all issues in the litigation both factual and legal when seeking compromise and, for the purpose of establishing a basis of compromise, admitting certain facts.’

Lord Bridge of Harwich, Lord Brandon of Oakbrook, Lord Griffiths, Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, Lord Goff of Chieveley
[1989] AC 1280, [1988] UKHL 7, [1988] 3 All ER 737
England and Wales
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 . .
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. . .
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 . .
CitedWalker 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 . .
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 . .
CitedRabin v Mendoza and Co CA 1954
The plaintiffs sued the defendants for negligence in surveying a property. Before the action commenced a meeting had taken place between the plaintiffs’ solicitor and a partner in the defendants’ firm of surveyors to see if the matter could be . .
CitedStretton v Stubbs Ltd CA 28-Feb-1905
(1905) The plaintiff, an artist had a judgment against him by a picture frame maker. It had been entered by consent under an agreement with the plaintiff’s solicitor that no publicity should be given to the result of the action. Nevertheless, the . .
CitedO’Rourke v Darbishire HL 1920
Sir Joseph Whitworth had died in 1887. In 1884 he had made a will appointing three executors and leaving his residuary estate to charity. By a codicil made in 1885 he altered his will to leave his ultimate residue to his executors for their own . .
CitedSchetky v Cochrane and the Union Funding Co 1918
(Court of Appeal in British Columbia) The court ordered oral discovery to be given to a defendant of negotiations between the plaintiff and another defendant in the action but held that on the trial there would be no higher right to use the . .
CitedDerco Industries Ltd v A R Grimwood Ltd, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and PLC Construction Ltd 1985
(British Columbia) Lambert J.A said about the without prejudice rule: ‘to the extent that there is a rule that prevents the production of documents that were prepared in the course of negotiations leading to a concluded settlement, it is my opinion . .
CitedCompagnie Financiere du Pacifique v Peruvian Guano Co CA 1882
Brett LJ defined the test to identify which documents are relevant for disclosure in court proceedings: ‘It seems to me that every document relates to the matters in question in the action, which not only would be evidence upon any issue, but also . .
CitedI Waxman and Sons Ltd v Texaco Canada Ltd 2-Jan-1968
(Court of Appeal of Ontario) The court approved the decision below. . .
CitedI Waxman and Sons Ltd v Texaco Canada Ltd 1968
(Ontario High Court) Fraser J said: ‘I am of opinion that in this jurisdiction a party to a correspondence within the ‘without prejudice’ privilege is, generally speaking, protected from being required to disclose it on discovery or at trial in . .
CitedChocoladefabriken Lindt and Sprungli AG and another v The Nestle Co Ltd 1978
Megarry V-C said that the mere failure to use the expression ‘without prejudice’ is not decisive of whether the letter is such. The question is whether the letters were written in an attempt to compromise actual or pending litigation and, if so, . .

Cited by:
CitedPrudential 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 . .
CitedIn re a Company (No 007466 of 2003) ChD 19-Jan-2004
The company had published and filed its accounts, but sought to file revised accounts. The Registrar of companies refused permission, and the company asked the court to require the registrar to allow it by virtue of the court’s inherent . .
CitedReed 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 . .
CitedBradford 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 . .
CitedXydhias v Xydhias CA 21-Dec-1998
The principles of contract law are of little use when looking at the course of negotiations in divorce ancillary proceedings. In the case of a dispute the court must use its own discretion to determine whether agreement had been reached. Thorpe LJ . .
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 . .
CitedFramlington Group Ltd and Another v Barnetson CA 24-May-2007
The defendant had sought an order requiring the claimant to remove from a witness statement elements referring to without prejudice discussions between the parties before litigation began.
Held: The defendant’s appeal succeeded. The test for . .
CitedJamie v Management Solution Partners Ltd EAT 31-Jan-2006
The claimant received an email from his employers and resigned claiming unfair dismissal saying that it was repudiatory. The employers objected to the admission of the email into evidence saying that it was marked without prejudice and subject to . .
CitedWilliams v Hull ChD 19-Nov-2009
The parties had bought a house together, but disputed the shares on which it was held. The appeal was on the basis that a without prejudice letter had been redacte and then wrongly admitted as not in fact without prejudice, an as an unambiguous . .
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 . .
CitedBrodie v Ward (T/A First Steps Nursery) EAT 7-Feb-2007
EAT Practice and Procedure – without prejudice letter
The EAT held that the Employment Tribunal was correct in excluding a solicitor’s without prejudice letter in other proceedings which the Appellant . .
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 . .
CitedV v W FC 2-Dec-2020
FDR Appointment Must Remain Confidential
XYZ had been appointed to value a family company within financial relief proceedings, but on seeking payment of their fees, and facing a counterclaim alleging negligence, they sought disclosure of the transcript of the Financial Dispute Resolution . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Evidence, Costs

Leading Case

Updated: 10 December 2021; Ref: scu.186458