Court's Approval of Protected Party Settlement in MHE v Wye Valley NHS Trust Balances Privacy and Open Justice Issues

Citation: [2024] EWHC 25 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent decision of MHE v Wye Valley NHS Trust [2024] EWHC 25 (KB), Dexter Dias KC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, delivered an approved judgment concerning the approval of a settlement for a personal injury claim involving a child and protected party. The judgment presents vital legal issues regarding the court’s inherent jurisdiction, the balance between privacy rights and the principle of open justice, and the principles governing the approval of settlements for protected parties under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR).

Key Facts

The case involves the claimant, identified as MHE, a 14-year-old with significant brain damage resulting from complications during her birth at a hospital operated by the Wye Valley NHS Trust. Full admission of liability was made by the NHS Trust, with a consent judgment entered for damages to be assessed. The claim has now culminated in a proposed settlement that required approval by the High Court pursuant to CPR 21.10(1), due to the claimant’s status as a child and protected party.

Inherent Jurisdiction and Anonymity Orders

Central to the proceedings was the application of the court’s inherent jurisdiction to approve settlements involving children or protected parties. The court also had to consider the competing ECHR rights under Article 8 (right to privacy) and Article 10 (freedom of expression). In granting the anonymity order, the judgment follows the principles laid out in JX MX v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust [2015] EWCA Civ 96, allowing these rights to be balanced with the necessity of confidentiality for the child’s welfare.

Court’s Approval of Settlements

Under CPR Part 21, particularly rule 21.10, the court must approve any settlement that involves a child or protected party to ensure propriety in the terms agreed upon. This oversight by the court acts as a safeguard, as consistently held in cases such as Dunhill v Burgin [2014] UKSC 18.

Professional Deputies and Trustees

The appointment of a Professional Trustee and Financial Deputy, as presented in the case, reflects the court’s priority to secure proper management of the claimant’s affairs, ensuring that the settlement serves the best interests of the claimant over the long term.

Best Interests and Preferences of the Claimant

The court’s review under CPR 41.7 considered the appropriateness of the award structure, including periodical payments. This aligns with the practice direction that requires the court to adjudicate based on the claimant’s best interests and accommodate the claimant’s present and future needs.

Damages and Periodical Payments

The specifics of the damages and periodical payments, such as being indexed to ASHE 6115 (80th centile) and considerations under the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997 also play a key role. The structuring addresses long-term care requirements, showing the importance of a tailored settlement resistant to inflationary erosion.

Outcomes

The court approved the settlement contingent upon the factors mentioned above, endorsing the structure of periodical payments as optimal for meeting the claimant’s needs. The satisfaction of the Dunhill propriety check led to the conclusion that the settlement was indeed in the best interests of MHE.

Conclusion

The MHE v Wye Valley NHS Trust case is emblematic of the court’s protective stance towards vulnerable parties, particularly children who lack capacity. It reaffirms the legal principles that settlements involving protected parties require court scrutiny to validate their propriety. The judgment further elucidates the weight given to privacy rights under the right circumstances while safeguarding the interests of justice and the child’s long-term welfare. It stands as a judicious application of the CPR and jurisprudence on both the approval of settlements and the accommodation of a claimant’s lifetime needs through methodically structured compensation, as reflected in the comprehensive judgment by Dexter Dias KC.

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