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 and the interview were without prejudice, and the question is whether under such circumstances they could be considered in order to determine whether there was good cause or not for depriving the plaintiff of costs. It is, I think, a good rule to say that nothing which is written or said without prejudice should be looked at without the consent of both parties, otherwise the whole object of the limitation would be destroyed. I am, therefore, of opinion that the learned judge should not have taken these matters into consideration.’
Lindley LJ said: ‘What is the meaning of the words ‘without prejudice’? I think they mean without prejudice to the position of the writer of the letter if the terms he proposes are not accepted. If the terms proposed in the letter are accepted a complete contract is established, and the letter, although written without prejudice, operates to alter the old state of things and to establish a new one. A contract is constituted in respect of which relief by way of damages or specific performance would be given. Supposing that a letter is written without prejudice then, according both to authority and to good sense, the answer also must be treated as made without prejudice.’
and ‘No doubt there are cases where letters written without prejudice may be taken into consideration, as was done the other day in a case in which a question of laches was raised. The fact that such letters have been written and the dates at which they were written may be regarded, and in so doing the rule to which I have adverted would not be infringed. The facts may, I think, be given in evidence, but the offer made and the mode in which that offer was dealt with – the material matters, that is to say, of the letters – must not be looked at without consent.’
Bowen LJ said: ‘In my opinion it would be a bad thing and lead to serious consequences if the Courts allowed the action of litigants, on letters written to them ‘without prejudice’, to be given in evidence against them or to be used as material for depriving them of costs. It is most important that the door should not be shut against compromises, as would certainly be the case if letters written ‘without prejudice’ and suggesting methods of compromise were liable to be read when a question of costs arose.’ and ‘What is the meaning of the words ‘without prejudice’? I think they mean without prejudice to the position of the writer of the letter if the terms he proposes are not accepted. If the terms proposed in the letter are accepted a complete contract is established and the letter, although written without prejudice, operates to alter the old state of things and to establish a new one.’
Bowen LJ, Lord Esher MR, Lindley LJ
(1889) 23 QBD 335
England and Wales
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 – 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 – 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 . .
Applied – Stotesbury v Turner 1943
Without prejudice negotiations are, as a matter of public policy, to be protected from disclosure to the court seized of the dispute. An arbitrator has the same discretion as to costs as has a High Court judge. . .
Cited – Rush 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 . .
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 . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Litigation Practice, Costs
Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.199274