High Court finds parties agreed to vary application of “without prejudice” rule in subsequent “without prejudice save as to costs” correspondence

The High Court has held that correspondence marked “without prejudice save as to costs” and which described the conduct of prior “without prejudice” (WP) negotiations (including a mediation and subsequent discussions) was admissible in an application for costs against the claimant’s lawyers: Willers v Joyce & Ors [2019] EWHC 937 (Ch).

The court accepted that the WP rule attached to the negotiations during and following the mediation. However, the subsequent “without prejudice save as to costs” correspondence amounted to an agreement to vary the WP status of the earlier negotiations, so that both parties would be able to deploy evidence of the WP negotiations in future arguments about costs.

The decision serves as a reminder to parties and practitioners to exercise care when referring to the substance of mediation discussions (or any other WP communications) in any subsequent correspondence that is not expressed to be WP. Depending on the terms of that correspondence, a court may conclude that the correspondence amounts to an agreement to exclude or vary the application of the WP rule, and therefore the circumstances in which the WP communications may be admissible.

Matthew Eglezos, a Senior Associate (Australia) in our disputes team, outlines the decision below. Continue reading

Brexit: UK unwinds implementation of EU ADR laws

Jan O’Neill
Professional Support Lawyer, London

 

The UK Government has published legislation to effectively revoke the implementation of the EU Mediation Directive (2008/52/EC) after Brexit.

The Cross-Border Mediation (EU Directive) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (the Regulations) were made on 1 March 2019 and will come into effect on exit day, whenever that occurs.

Why?

The development is part of a wider policy decision by the Government to revoke/repeal UK domestic legislation that implemented EU law in instances where that law is based on reciprocity between EU Member States. Continue reading

Article published – ADR reform: one size does not fit all

On 6 March, the Civil Justice Council held a workshop to discuss the recommendations made in its interim report on ADR, which was subject to consultation late last year. The interim report addresses concerns regarding a perceived underuse of ADR within some sections of the civil justice system and suggests a variety of possible corrective measures. The proposals include a power for the court to determine whether costs sanctions should be imposed for unreasonable conduct relating to ADR (such as an unreasonable refusal to mediate) not only at the end of a case, as currently, but during the matter when the decisions regarding ADR are taken.

Jan O’Neill has published a post on Practical Law’s Dispute Resolution blog in which she questions how realistic the suggestion of “midstream” assessment of parties’ conduct relating to ADR would be in practice. She suggests that many of the concerns expressed in the report as to the underuse of ADR are not relevant to many larger, complex claims, and urges the working group to tailor any final recommendations to the specific courts or dispute types for which the evidence suggests they are needed and practicable.

Click here to read the post (or here for the Practical Law Dispute Resolution blog homepage).

 

 

High Court decision potentially extends exceptions to without prejudice protection

In a recent decision, the High Court has found that documents relating to negotiations regarding recoverable litigation costs had to be disclosed to a third party (the claimant in the present action) who had an interest in the outcome of the negotiations: EMW Law LLP v Halborg [2017] EWHC 1014.

The documents could normally have been withheld on the basis of the without prejudice ("WP") rule, which (in general) prevents negotiations genuinely aimed at settlement from being admitted in evidence in proceedings. However, the judge found that exceptions to the WP rule applied in this case, essentially on the basis that justice clearly demanded that an exception be made as there was a live issue as to whether the negotiations had led to a concluded settlement and that issue could not be determined without access to the documents.

The decision may be seen to expand existing exceptions to the WP rule. Although there is a recognised exception where documents are relevant to whether a concluded agreement has been reached, in previous cases it had been one of the parties to the litigation who alleged that an agreement had been reached. Here that question was put in issue by a stranger to the negotiations. The judge was also prepared to craft a new exception by analogy to the (much-criticised) exception established in Muller v Linsley & Mortimer [1996] 1 PNLR 74, where the WP communications were relevant to whether a party had reasonably mitigated his loss in negotiating a compromise of separate proceedings.

Although the issues in this case did not arise in the context of a mediation or other formal ADR process, they could potentially apply equally in that context. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, particularly in such formal ADR contexts, it is in practice very rare for the WP status of the discussions to subsequently be challenged and even more so for the challenge to be successful.  The courts' approach to the exceptions to WP could be expected to continue to be one of applying the exceptions narrowly and preventing erosions of the protection, to avoid undermining the policy of encouraging settlement discussions.

Click here to read more on the decision on our 'Litigation Notes' blog.

 

Costs judge finds information from mediation is admissible when considering costs consequences of settlement

A costs judge has held that information about a party's costs provided for the purposes of a mediation could be used as evidence when considering the cost consequences of a subsequent settlement: Savings Advice Limited v EDF Energy Customers Ltd [2017] EWHC B1 (Costs) 

Documents produced for the purposes of mediation are generally covered by without prejudice privilege and, subject to limited exceptions, cannot subsequently be used as evidence. In the present case the costs information was provided in emails headed "without prejudice save as to costs", so it is perhaps not surprising that the costs judge concluded it could be used as evidence in subsequent cost proceedings.

However, other aspects of the reasoning for the decision are more surprising and arguably not supported by existing authorities regarding the without prejudice rule. In particular, the costs judge held that the costs information was not in any event covered by the privilege because it was a statement of pure fact rather than an admission or concession. Such distinction has been rejected in previous cases on the basis that requiring parties to a negotiation to constantly analyse whether they are making admissions or factual statements would undermine the privilege's purpose of enabling parties to speak freely in settlement negotiations (see for example the decision of the House of Lords in Ofulue v Bossert [2009] UKHL16, considered here).

While the decision will not necessarily be followed in future cases,  it serves as a reminder that parties should be aware of the limitations of without prejudice privilege and the circumstances in which information provided during mediation may be used in subsequent litigation. As a practice point, parties should ensure that they are clear as to what is intended when they provide or receive information  'without prejudice save as to costs' in the context of a mediation.

Gary Horlock (associate) and Jan O'Neill (professional support lawyer) in our dispute resolution team consider the decision further below.

Continue reading

Singapore: proposed new legislation to encourage mediation

A Mediation Bill has recently been put before the Singapore Parliament with a view to encouraging the growth of mediation in the jurisdiction.  The three key proposals in the Bill (which echo similar provisions in the EU Mediation Directive and various other mediation laws around the world) are:

(i)   A power (though not a duty) in the courts to stay proceedings in favour of mediation agreed by the parties

(ii)  A mechanism for settlement agreements reached at pre-litigation mediations to be recorded and enforced as court orders; and

(iii) Confirmation of the confidentiality of mediation communications.

Read more detail on the proposals here.  

 

Settlement offer conveyed through a mediator found not to be protected by without prejudice privilege due to ‘unambiguous impropriety’

The Court of Appeal has recently applied the rarely invoked "unambiguous impropriety" exception to without prejudice ("WP") privilege, to find that a written settlement offer conveyed through a mediator following an unsuccessful mediation was not protected by WP: Ferster v Ferster [2016] EWCA Civ 717.   

Communications in connection with a mediation (including when the mediator acts as a conduit for negotiations after the mediation) will of course normally be protected by WP privilege. However, one of the narrow exceptions to the WP privilege is where the communication involved some 'unambiguous impropriety', in the sense of an attempt to abuse the protection afforded by the privilege.  In the present case, the Court of Appeal found that correspondence conveying a settlement offer on behalf of the claimants constituted an unambiguously improper threat against the defendant in the nature of blackmail and, as such, was not protected.

The decision serves as a reminder that WP privilege cannot be used as a cloak for impropriety.  It also underlines the fact that there is a distinction to be drawn between the use of proper leverage in the context of settlement discussions and the making of improper threats.  The courts will take a dim view of the latter.   Read more commentary on the decision here.

 

Public consultation on mediation in the EU

The EU Commission has launched a consultation to gather views on the extent to which the EU Mediation Directive (2008/52/EC) has achieved its objectives and to consider whether any changes to the Directive are appropriate.

Responses to the consultation will inform a report the Commission is required to submit to the EU legislative bodies by May 2016, assessing the development of mediation throughout the EU and the impact of the Directive.  The report may, if appropriate, be accompanied by proposals to adapt the Directive. Continue reading

ADR in the UK – article published

Julian Copeman, a Herbert Smith Freehills partner and accredited mediator with CEDR (the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), recently published an article in Solicitors Journal addressing whether litigating parties are required to attempt ADR in the UK. He charts developments from the Woolf reforms to Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals, and explores key judgments in relation to refusals to mediate and disclosure of mediation documents and information. Julian concludes that ADR is correctly a consensual process, whereby judicial encouragement rather than compulsion to undertake ADR is the preferred course.

Click here to download a copy of the article, which was first published by Solicitors Journal in Litigation Focus on 25 September 2012, and is reproduced with their kind permission  (www.solicitorsjournal.com).

Julian Copeman
Julian Copeman
Partner, dispute resolution, London
+44 207 466 2168

Judicial mediation in mainland China explained

With the Chinese courts under increasingly heavy case loads, use of “judicial mediation” continues to be encouraged by all levels of the Chinese courts as a means of effective case management. Although mediation and “judicial mediation” both have long histories in China, foreign parties may find judicial mediation in China very different from what they expect. This is because unlike common law jurisdictions, judicial mediation in China is not strictly speaking an ADR mechanism, but rather an integral and important part of PRC litigation procedure. Chinese judges will often undertake dual roles, with the same judge acting as both mediator and the ultimate adjudicator in the same litigation.

Mainland China disputes specialists May Tai and Damien McDonald discuss judicial mediation and how best to prepare for it. Continue reading