WITHDRAWING FROM ADMISSIONS, MISTAKES AND THE DENTON PRINCIPLES
There is a report on Lawtel of the decision of Judge Bidder QC in Moore -v- Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust [12/02/15].* This case demonstrates some of the difficult issues in relation to the law of withdrawing from admissions.
In a clinical negligence case the defendant admitted liability based on a mis-reading of its own medical evidence. After proceedings were issued the defendant was granted several extensions of time to file a defence, thereafter judgment was entered. At the case management conference the defendant was granted permission to withdraw from the admission and the judgment was set aside.
The master had considered each of the grounds of CPR PD14 para 7.2. correctly.
- The defendant had made a mistake.
- The claimant was blameless.
- Although the case had to be looked at against the background of the Mitchell and Denton cases an application to withdraw a pre-action admission did not necessarily import the full factors to be considered under CPR 3.9.
- The matter had arisen out of a genuine mistake and not deliberate conduct.
- It was important that the application had been made early in the proceedings.
- The master was entitled to conclude that the trust had a real prospect of successfully defending the claim.
NOTE: THIS JUDGMENT DOES NOT GIVE DEFENDANTS A BLANK CHEQUE
The withdrawal of the admission in that case was made early and the court found that there was no evidential prejudice to the defendant. I have been involved in several cases recently where the court has refused the defendant permission to withdraw from an admission in circumstances where it is made late; where the claimant has been prejudice (because they did not carry out investigations into the accident) or where the defendant simply proffered no real explanation for the change of mind.
WITHDRAWING AN ADMISSION: NOT ALWAYS GOOD NEWS FOR DEFENDANTS
It is noticeable that the leading case as to withdrawing an admission is Woodland -v- Stopford  EWCA Civ 266. In that case the defendant was successful in withdrawing an admission made many years before. However as we saw last week the withdrawal of that admission came to nothing in that the claimant was successful at trial. It must have led to the defendant incurring enormous cost liabilities. Since the matter went to the Supreme Court at one stage it is probable that the costs liabilities exceed the damages that the defendants will have to pay. The earlier admission was (with the benefit of hindsight) correct.
GETTING THE FACTS STRAIGHT WHEN ADMITTING A CASE OR WITHDRAWING AN ADMISSION
Further Woodland illustrates a problem of defendants not having a total grasp of the facts of the case when admitting liability and, later, withdrawing that admission. It appears to have been a case defended on shifting evidential grounds. In a case that was 15 years old the defendant served a witness statement on the morning of the trial.
“At the start of the trial Ms Maxwell’s team tendered a further witness statement from her that gave rather a different picture.”
It was clear from the judgment that the “shifting grounds” of the defence discredited rather than assisted the evidence adduced by the defendants
As the trial progressed my confidence in the reliability of the basic narrative of the children’s accounts strengthened. Each of their accounts seemed to me to have been a conscientious attempt to recollect what was, undoubtedly, a traumatic event. By contrast, the reliability of the evidence of three DSS teachers diminished. All three added details that were not previously mentioned. In my view, each gave some implausible explanations for omissions in previous statements. Ms Burlinson made assertions of fact that, when explored, transpired were based on debatable assumptions.
So withdrawing the admission has proven to be a highly expensive course of action.
PRACTICE DIRECTION CPR 14
“WITHDRAWING AN ADMISSION
7.1 An admission made under Part 14 may be withdrawn with the court’s permission.
7.2 In deciding whether to give permission for an admission to be withdrawn, the court will have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including –
(a) the grounds upon which the applicant seeks to withdraw the admission including whether or not new evidence has come to light which was not available at the time the admission was made;
(b) the conduct of the parties, including any conduct which led the party making the admission to do so;
(c) the prejudice that may be caused to any person if the admission is withdrawn;
(d) the prejudice that may be caused to any person if the application is refused;
(e) the stage in the proceedings at which the application to withdraw is made, in particular in relation to the date or period fixed for trial;
(f) the prospects of success (if the admission is withdrawn) of the claim or part of the claim in relation to which the offer was made; and
(g) the interests of the administration of justice.”
*This post is based on the Lawtel summary of the case.