The High Court has ruled that a hospital trust cannot withdraw a part 36 offer to settle because the trust refused to disclose any reasons for its decision.
Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had sought to withdraw the £325,000 settlement offer to former patient Jayne Evans, who suffered a permanent brain injury after a fall. The trust admitted negligence in failing to admit Evans overnight.
The part 36 offer was made on 3 July and the claimant accepted it within the 21-day decision period stipulated by the Civil Procedure Rules.
But, unknown to the claimant, the defendant had on 24 July issued an application for permission to withdraw its offer. No notice of the application was served on or given to the claimant, yet permission was granted by HH Judge McKenna on 7 August.
However, sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Leggatt ruled that it was ‘wrong in principle’ for the defendant to make its application without notice to the claimant and for the court to entertain that application.
Leggatt said that granting the trust’s request in these circumstances amounted to a ‘denial of justice’.
‘The right to apply to have the order set aside is only real and meaningful if the party against whom the order was made (the respondent) is told the grounds on which the order was sought and made and is shown the evidence on which the applicant relied,’ said Leggatt.
‘It is manifest that, unless the respondent knows the case it has to meet, it cannot adduce evidence or advance arguments to persuade the court that it was wrong to make the order.’
The defendant had accepted it would have to disclose the reasons for withdrawing the offer but asked the court for ‘breathing space’ – in effect an adjournment until evidence could be disclosed.
Leggatt said it would be ‘unlawful and improper’ for the court to receive evidence or argument from the defendant in support of a request for an adjournment without the claimant knowing the contents of that evidence and argument.
He ruled that either the defendant serve the evidence and disclose its arguments to justify withdrawing the part 36 offer, or judgment be made in favour of the claimant.
A spokesman for The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘This matter is awaiting a further hearing and it would not be appropriate for the trust to comment at this stage.’