High Court Upholds Settlement Approval for Protected Party in GJC v Stephen John Walker [2024] EWHC 182 (KB)

Citation: [2024] EWHC 182 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the High Court of Justice case of GJC v Stephen John Walker [2024] EWHC 182 (KB), a personal injury claim was evaluated in the King’s Bench Division. Presided over by Dexter Dias KC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, the court analyzed the terms of a settlement agreement concerning a claimant suffering lasting injuries from a road traffic accident. This article unpacks the judgment, shedding light on the key legal principles and the reasoning behind the court’s endorsement of the settlement.

Key Facts

The claimant, referred to as “GJC,” is a protected party under CPR 21.2(1) who sustained a severe brain injury as a backseat passenger in a road traffic accident nearly five years prior. An anonymity order is in place for the claimant. There was a full admission of liability by the defendant, Mr. Walker, which was acknowledged, leading to a judgment on the quantum of damages by Master Thornett.

A Joint Settlement Meeting on 15 December 2023 led to a compromise between the parties that required approval by the court due to the claimant’s protected status. The ruling hence focused on the legality and appropriateness of the agreed settlement terms.

Several legal principles underline the judgment in this case. Primarily, the court’s inherent jurisdiction is invoked to validate the terms of a settlement involving a protected party:

  1. Approval of Settlements for Protected Parties (CPR 21.10): The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), Part 21, stipulate that any settlements for protected parties are subject to court approval. The rule aims to ensure an external check on the settlement’s propriety, safeguarding the interests of the claimant, as outlined in Dunhill v Burgin [2014] UKSC 18.

  2. Best Interests of the Claimant: The judge must be assured that the settlement is in the best interests of the claimant. This includes consideration of the claimant’s welfare and future needs in the light of the impact and prognosis of the injuries suffered, as per the principles of the overriding objective and the duty to act in the interests of justice.

  3. Open Justice vs. Right to Privacy (ECHR Articles 8 and 10): The anonymity order was granted in compliance with JX MX v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust [2015] EWCA Civ 96, balancing the claimant’s right to privacy (Article 8) with the public’s right to information (Article 10 under the European Convention on Human Rights).

  4. Independent Advice and Assessment: The court reviews a confidential legal opinion and an IFA report to ascertain the prudence of the settlement. This is aligned with Drinkall v Whitwood [2003] EWCA Civ 1547 criteria, ensuring that the claimant’s representatives regard the settlement favorably and have taken into account the full spectrum of the claimant’s needs.

Outcomes

Upon evaluation, the court confirmed the following:

  • The structure of the settlement, including the absence of liability under the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997, met the claimant’s long-term needs.
  • The confidential legal opinion submitted was comprehensive and persuasive in justifying why the proposed settlement was suitable.
  • The court approved the settlement under CPR 21.10 as being in the best interests of the claimant.
  • The court acknowledged the claimant’s challenging circumstances and the likely impact of the settlement on his future quality of life.

Conclusion

The High Court’s judgment in GJC v Stephen John Walker reveals a meticulous examination into the settlement of a personal injury claim involving a protected party. The ruling encapsulates the court’s duty to protect the claimant’s interests, simultaneously upholding the principles of open justice and personal privacy. Key legal precedents and rules under the CPR provide a robust framework for such assessments, ensuring that the approval of settlements is subject to stringent judicial scrutiny. The decision serves as an affirmation of the judiciary’s role in safeguarding the rights and futures of individuals affected by incapacitating injuries.

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