The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision at first instance to permit a defendant to withdraw its pre-action admission of liability.
Despite the fact that no new evidence had come to light to prompt the retraction, the Civil Procedure Rules - rule 14.1A(3) - conferred a wide discretion on the court to allow the withdrawal of a pre-action admission having regard to certain factors listed in CPR Practice Direction 14, paragraph 7.2. In the present case, whilst no new evidence had come to light, the defendant explained that there had initially been insufficient investigation of the facts and in particular, a failure to obtain detailed witness statements from the principal individuals involved. The judge at first instance also had in mind the prejudice to each party, the stage reached in proceedings when the withdrawal had been made, the prospects of the defence succeeding and the overall interests of the administration of justice. All of these issues required a balance to be struck, following careful assessment, and the judge was entitled to conclude that the balance came down in favour of the defendant.
Annie Rachel Woodland (by her father and litigation friend Ian Woodland) v (1) Beryl Stopford (2) Deborah Maxwell (3) Swimming Teachers Association  EWCA Civ 266