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The High Court has held that the content of “without prejudice” (“WP”) communications between the parties to the proceedings was inadmissible, though the fact of the WP negotiations could be referred to. The counterparty to the WP communications would be prejudiced by admission of the communications, and it had neither deployed the content of the WP communications nor put in issue matters which were only justiciable by reference to them: Briggs v Clay [2019] EWHC 102 (Ch).

Whilst the court accepted that the list of exceptions to the WP rule is not closed, it emphasised that any exception must be of the same character or a principled and incremental extension of an existing exception. The court did not regard the present case as falling within the scope of 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, and the party had himself put the reasonableness of the settlement in issue. The court noted that the Muller exception had not previously been held to apply in the case of WP negotiations in the very claim that is before the court, and said that the exception sought to be identified in this case risked significantly undermining the policy of encouraging parties to attempt to settle disputes in multi-party litigation.

The decision provides a careful analysis of previous case law on the scope of the WP rule, and seeks to clarify the extent of the Mullerexception which is a matter of some uncertainty. The decision suggests that the exception will come into play where negotiations are relied on to prove some collateral matter and the other party to the WP communications will be unaffected by admission of the WP material, or where the party seeking to assert the privilege has raised an issue which is only justiciable upon proof of the WP communications.