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The Seven Pillars of Wisdom – Withdrawing an Admission of Liability – September 2011

A claimant who sends a letter of claim to a person may receive in response an admission in writing of some or all of the claimant’s case. What if the party making the admission changes his mind and later wishes to withdraw? Perhaps some new evidence has come to light or an important witness for the defence has been found.

Historically the court did not readily grant applications made by a party who wanted to retract an admission and the rules only seemed to refer to admissions made during proceedings.

Relevant cases on the subject are Gale v Superdrug (1996), Sowerby and Charlton (2005) and Stoke City Council and Whalley (2007). In brief summary, the latter two cases decided that the court rules on the withdrawal of an admission during proceedings did not apply to admissions made before proceedings had started and the courts attempted to lay down a set of guidelines for other courts to follow in such cases.

In 2006 the Civil Procedure Amendment Rules No. 3 introduced a new rule – Rule 14.1A – dealing specifically with the withdrawal of a pre-action admission after proceedings are issued. The permission of the claimant or the permission of the Court was required to withdraw the admission and the court had to weigh up the seven factors set out in Practice Direction 7.2

In Woodland v Stopford the court weighed these factors and decided on a balancing exercise to allow the admission to be withdrawn even though no new evidence had come to light and the Defendant could offer no explanation for its change of mind. The judge who heard the case at first instance had approached the matter correctly when he considered the factors in turn and decided that the claimant’s evidence which had prompted the defendant to make the admission was flawed and perhaps better advised the defendant might not have made an admission in a £2 million claim, since the evidence in such a claim must be properly analysed.

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