In Woodland v Stopford  EWCA Civ 266 handed down today the Court of Appeal again considered the law on resiling from pre action admissions when it dismissed an appeal by the Claimant of the decision of HHJ Holman who had permitted the Defendant to resile from their pre action admission.
The claim arises as a result of the infant Claimant suffering an hypoxic brain injury during the course of a school swimming lesson on 5th July 2000. The Claimant was left severely disabled as a result of this injury and the claim is valued at between £2 and £3 million. After an initial denial of liability a pre action admission of liability was made by the Defendant on 27th November 2007. The Defendant then made an interim payment. Thereafter however the Defendant purported to retract that admission in further pre action correspondence on 27th July 2009. The claim was then issued on 25th November 2009 and the pre action admission was pleaded. There then followed cross applications made by the Claimant for Judgment on the admission and by the Defendant for permission to resile from the pre action admission.
The applications came before HHJ Holman in April 2010. The applicable law was contained within CPR 14.1A and in particular paragraph 7.2 of the Practice Direction which sets out a non exhaustive list of factors for the Court to consider when hearing such an application.
In relation to the Practice Direction HHJ Holman held that the fact that no new evidence had come to light was not fatal to a party wishing to resile. New evidence coming to light was simply one of the matters that the Court must have regard to. In addition HHJ Holman found that the reason why the Defendant had changed their mind about admitting liability was unclear. This absence of information again did not bar the Defendant from succeeding in their application. The clear inference that HHJ Holman formed was that the Defendants had simply misjudged the value of the claim when making the admission. In all the circumstances HHJ Holman permitted the Defendants to reslie from their admission.
The main grounds of appeal raised were that there had been no new evidence relied on by the Defendant and that there had been no explanation given to explain the Defendants change of mind. Reliance was placed upon the decision of Steel J in American Reliable Insurance v Willis  EWHC 267 (at present cited in the White Book) that these factual issues were crucial for a Court when deciding whether a party should be permitted to resile. In that case Steel J had described the requirement to show why a party had changed its mind and to evidence the same as a threshold requirement for the party making such an application.
The Court of Appeal held that American Reliable was an unusual commercial case on very different facts. The Court held that it would be “quite wrong” to lift Steel J’s observations out of context and elevate the factual issue of why a party had changed its mind on an admission to a threshold test. Instead the Court has a wide discretion under CPR 14.1A and the listed factors are not listed in any hierarchical order. In this case the Defendant had changed its mind mainly following a second careful appraisal of the known facts. This was an adequate explanation to found such an application. The Judge had carefully considered all of the listed factors he was required to consider and had come to a decision he was entitled to come to.
As a result the Claimants appeal was dismissed and the Defendant was permitted to resile from their pre action admission.