Litigant in person loses case after disclosing offer

Judith Thompson

In a case decided at the end of 2018, a judge penalised a litigant in person who deliberately disclosed a without prejudice offer to the trial judge.

During the court of litigation, without prejudice offers can be made by either party to the other. Marking the correspondence "without prejudice" means that the judge dealing with the trial cannot be made aware of the offer, until he has decided who has won and who has lost. 

Without prejudice offers are therefore a powerful mechanism to help parties try to resolve disputes, without the need to go all the way to trial. 

In the personal injury case which has been recently reported, a claimant alleged that he could not carry out any heavy lifting or drive his car. The defendant had video evidence showing the claimant driving and lifting heavy objects.  

In desperation at trial, the claimant told the judge that the defendant had offered him £10,000. The trial was not able to continue and the claimant was ordered to pay significant costs to the defendant. 

The orders were appealed, but the Court of Appeal said that even if the litigant in person did not understand exactly what the without prejudice rules were, he should have listened to the trial judge who tried to prevent him from revealing the offer. The Court of Appeal found that by ignoring the judge, the claimant must have known he was doing something wrong. The fact that the claimant had also failed to comply with previous court orders, also counted against him. 

This case demonstrates yet again that litigants in person can easily fall foul of the court rules. There was a time when litigants in person would be given a great deal of leeway, and would even be assisted by the court on occasion, to ensure they did not damage their own case. This is no longer the case, and litigants in person are expected to abide by the court rules, and comply with directions, when dealing with a claim. 

If you are struggling to deal with a case as a litigant in person, contact us to see how we can help.