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When will the court still hand down a judgment if the parties have already settled?

April 22, 2021

A recent decision by the High Court provides guidance on the factors for a judge to consider when deciding whether to hand down a reserved judgment where the parties reach a settlement following a hearing, and includes a mechanism by which parties may be able to insulate themselves from the risk of a judgment being handed down despite a settlement having been reached.

Facts

In Beriwala v Woodstone Properties (Birmingham) Ltd [2021] EWHC 609 (Ch), Robin Vos, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, considered whether to accept the parties’ request not to hand down his reserved judgment.

On 4 March 2021, the judge indicated that he would hand down his judgment the following day, having previously provided the parties with an opportunity to suggest corrections to any obvious errors.

The parties asked the judge to delay handing down his judgment until 9 March, to allow the parties to continue settlement discussions, to which Robin Vos J agreed. On 8 March, the judge was informed that the parties had reached a settlement agreement which was conditional on him agreeing not to hand down the reserved judgment.

The court’s discretion

Where a case has been fully argued, the court has the discretion to hand down its judgment, regardless of whether the matter is subsequently settled after the hearing. This discretion includes the scenario where a draft of a reserved judgment has been circulated to the parties (Prudential Assurance Company Ltd v McBains Cooper (a firm) & Ors [2000] EWCA Civ 172).

Decision

The judge found that, having considered the relevant factors, it was not appropriate to hand down the reserved judgment. Robin Vos J’s decision helpfully summarises the case law as to the public interests which might justify the handing down of a judgment, against the wishes of the parties. Such public interests may include (i) where the dispute raises a point of law of general interest; (ii) where wrongdoing or other activity should be exposed; (iii) the case concerns regulated entities; (iv) whether third parties are significantly affected by the dispute; (v) the issues between the parties might, without a judgment, lead to further litigation which require further court time and resources.

The judge found that there were “relatively few factors which could suggest that the judgment should be handed down” in this case. While not an overriding factor, the parties had requested that the judgment should not be handed down, and this request should be given considerable weight, as per Sales J (as he then was) in F&C Alternative Investments (Holdings) Ltd v Barthelemy [2011] EWHC 1851 (Ch).

Key Takeaways

This decision serves as a reminder that settling a case after a draft judgment has been prepared does not automatically prevent that judgment for being handed down.

Practically, the court’s implicit acceptance of the approach taken by the parties in this case, of making the settlement agreement conditional on the judgment not being handed down, may allow parties to avoid situations where settled matters still result in a public judgment.

The author would like to thank Jack Fowles for his assistance in preparing this post.