A recent English High Court decision serves as a reminder that the court has power to hand down a reserved judgment despite the proceedings having settled, even where the settlement was reached before the court circulated a draft judgment to the parties. There is no need for the court to be satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances. The proper approach is for the court to weigh the public interest for and against handing down the judgment: Jabbar & another v Avviv Insurance Ltd & others  EWHC 912 (QB).
Although the reserved judgment in this case related to applications during the course of proceedings, the same principles would apply to a reserved final judgment on the merits. They would also apply whether the settlement was reached via a structured ADR process or otherwise. However, parties should remember that they have a duty to inform the court immediately if “meaningful settlement discussions” take place after judgment has been reserved.
The decision shows that there may be a greater likelihood of the court exercising its discretion to hand down judgment after settlement in cases where it addresses novel or important points of law, or serious accusations of wrongdoing.
Parties engaged in mediation or other settlement negotiations while a reserved judgment is pending should bear in mind the possibility that the judgment may still be delivered, and address this in the discussions if appropriate. If settling parties are in agreement that judgment should not be delivered, it would be advisable to make this known to the court; although such an agreement will not bind the court, it will be a relevant factor.
The court may also take into account whether the settlement agreement is in fact conditional on the court agreeing not to hand down judgment. Here it was “of some significance” that the consent order agreed by the parties did not proceed on the basis that the judgment would not be handed down, and therefore publication of the judgment did not risk undermining the settlement. In a previous decision (considered here) the fact that the settlement was conditional, and therefore handing down judgment would be likely to lead to further litigation, was found to be a strong reason against publication.
Jan O’Neill, Herbert Smith Freehills