Hilary Term [2019] UKSC 13 On appeal from: [2017] EWCA Civ 147

Takhar (Appellant) v Gracefield Developments
Limited and others (Respondents)
Lord Kerr
Lord Sumption
Lord Hodge
Lord Lloyd-Jones
Lord Briggs
Lady Arden
Lord Kitchin
20 March 2019
Heard on 10 October 2018
Appellant Respondents
John Wardell QC Joseph Sullivan
Andrew Mold Tom Nixon
(Instructed by Tanners
Solicitors LLP
(Instructed by Gowling
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LORD KERR: (with whom Lord Hodge, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lord Kitchin
1. Balber Kaur Takhar, the appellant, is the cousin of the third respondent,
Parkash Kaur Krishan. For many years before 2004, they had not seen each other.
In that year they became reacquainted. At the time, Mrs Takhar was suffering
personal and financial problems. She had separated from her husband some five
years previously. As part of the arrangements made between Mrs Takhar and her
husband, she had acquired a number of properties in Coventry.
2. When Mrs Takhar and Mrs Krishan met again, according to Mrs Takhar, she
confided in her cousin and grew increasingly to depend upon her. Mrs Takhar claims
that Mrs Krishan exerted considerable influence over her.
3. The financial problems of Mrs Takhar arose mainly from the condition of the
properties which she had acquired from her husband. Some were in a dilapidated
condition. Payment for rates were in arrears. Bankruptcy for Mrs Takhar was in
4. The Krishans provided financial help to Mrs Takhar. Dr Krishan, the second
respondent and the third respondent’s husband, took on responsibility for
negotiating with Coventry City Council over the rates arrears and the dilapidated
state of some of the buildings. Then, in November 2005 it was agreed that the legal
title to the properties would be transferred to Gracefield Developments Ltd, a newly
formed company, of which Mrs Takhar and the Krishans were to be the shareholders
and directors.
5. Mrs Takhar claims that it had been agreed between her and the Krishans that
the properties would be renovated and then let. The rent would be used to defray the
cost of the renovation, which, in the short term, would be met by the Krishans. Mrs
Takhar would remain the beneficial owner of the properties.
6. The Krishans present a very different account. They claim that Gracefield
was set up as a joint venture company. The properties were to be sold after they had
been renovated. They were to be given an agreed value and this would be paid to
Mrs Takhar after they had been sold. Any profit over would be divided equally
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between Mrs Takhar and the Krishans. They explain that Mrs Takhar agreed to these
arrangements because planning permission for development had to be obtained in
order to realise the value of the properties and this was an area in which Dr Krishan
had experience, having already successfully developed his own medical centre.
The proceedings
7. On 24 October 2008, Mrs Takhar, issued proceedings in the Birmingham
District Registry of the Chancery Division. She claimed that the properties had been
transferred to Gracefield as a result of undue influence or other unconscionable
conduct on the part of Dr and Mrs Krishan. In a judgment delivered on 28 July 2010
[2010] EWHC 2872 (Ch), His Honour Judge Purle QC rejected that claim.
8. A significant item of evidence in the hearing before Judge Purle was a written
profit share agreement dated 1 April 2006. It provided for an initial purchase price
of £100,000 for the properties. This was to be placed on a loan account with
Gracefield. Further sums totalling £200,000 as deferred consideration were also
provided for. The total of £300,000 was to be paid to Mrs Takhar on completion of
the sale of the properties. She was also to receive 50% of the profits on the sale of
each property.
9. The circumstances in which this written agreement was discovered and Mrs
Takhar’s evidence about it were described by Judge Purle in paras 21 and 22 of his
“… no case of forgery is advanced. Only the last page of the
version of the agreement signed by Mrs Takhar appears to have
survived and that is in the form of a scanned copy, which has
emerged in the files of Sue Bowdler’s firm [the Krishans’
solicitors]. It was misfiled, apparently. Sue Bowdler had not
seen the copy with Mrs Takhar’s signature on it before until it
was found, misfiled. However, there is no doubt that the
agreement was prepared for signature. There is no doubt also
that the agreement was prepared for signature in or around
April 2006 and there is no doubt, in my mind, that it faithfully
reflects the oral agreement that had been made.
22. In the absence of Mrs Takhar giving a coherent
explanation as to how her signature came to be on the scanned
copy, I conclude that the Krishans’ evidence, which I believe
anyway, should be accepted and that Mrs Takhar took the copy
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of the agreement that she was to sign away, which was
returned, probably by her in some way, duly executed to Sue
Bowdler’s firm, which then ended up misfiled. At all events, I
am satisfied that that was the agreement that was made. The
properties were transferred by Mrs Takhar in to Gracefield’s
name before the written joint venture agreement was prepared,
and the only credible explanation that I have heard is that they
were so transferred on the terms subsequently set out in the
joint venture agreement, which were previously agreed orally.”
10. This was, therefore, powerful evidence in support of the Krishans’ case. And
it is unsurprising that it was heavily relied on by the judge. As the quoted passage
shows, he found that the written agreement represented what had earlier been agreed
orally between Mrs Takhar and the Krishans. The judge therefore held that Mrs
Takhar had transferred the properties to Gracefield for the sum of £300,000 and that
she was to receive 50% of the profits when the properties were sold. He dismissed
Mrs Takhar’s claim based on undue influence or unconscionable bargain and held
that the properties had been transferred to Gracefield both legally and beneficially.
That transfer was, he held, subject to the terms of the oral agreement made between
the parties, as reflected in the written profit share agreement.
11. The original of the profit share agreement said to have been signed by Mrs
Takhar has not been found. The Krishans claim that it was prepared by accountants
at a time when Mrs Takhar was in India and then handed to her when she returned.
She was asked to consider it and return it to the accountants. Mrs Takhar’s case is
that she did not sign the document and had never seen it until the dispute arose. The
authenticity of the document and whether it had been signed by Mrs Takhar are
central issues in the dispute between the parties, therefore.
12. In advance of the trial before Judge Purle, Mrs Takhar had sought permission
to obtain evidence from a handwriting expert to examine the signature on the profit
share agreement which had been attributed to her. That application was refused
because it had not been made until the trial was imminent. On the trial, Mrs Takhar
gave evidence that she could not say that the signature on the profit share agreement
was not hers, but she was unable to explain how it had got there.
13. After the trial Mrs Takhar instructed new solicitors and asked them to obtain
a report from a handwriting expert. Robert Radley is such an expert and he was
engaged to inspect and report on various documents. His subsequent report stated
conclusively that the signature on the profit share agreement which purported to be
that of Mrs Takhar had been transposed from a letter of 24 March 2006 which she
had sent to the Krishans’ solicitors. He was also of the opinion that there was strong
evidence that Mrs Takhar did not sign a 2006 bank inquiry form and that the
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signatures of both the Krishans and Mrs Takhar on later 2011 bank inquiry forms
had also been transposed from previous forms.
14. On foot of this report, Mrs Takhar claims that she can now advance a case of
fraud against the Krishans. She also claims that she was not in a position to do so
until she had received Mr Radley’s report. The Krishans dispute both claims.
15. After receiving Mr Radley’s report, Mrs Takhar issued proceedings in which
she sought to have Judge Purle’s judgment and order set aside. She claimed that she
was entitled to this relief on the ground that it was obtained by fraud, the principal
forgery relied upon being that of the copy of the profit share agreement. (Later Mrs
Takhar applied for permission to amend her claim to allege an unlawful means
conspiracy and deceit. That application was refused and no longer features in the
16. The respondents served defences in which they pleaded that Mrs Takhar’s
claim is an abuse of process, inter alia because the documents on which Mr Radley’s
report was based were available to Mrs Takhar and her legal team since at least 12
July 2009 (approximately 12 months earlier than the trial before Judge Purle).
17. It was ordered that the question whether Mrs Takhar’s claim amounted to an
abuse of process be tried as a preliminary issue. That trial took place before Newey
J in February 2015. In his judgment, ([2015] EWHC 1276 (Ch)), Newey J held that
a party who seeks to set aside a judgment on the basis that it was obtained by fraud
did not have to demonstrate that he could not have discovered the fraud by the
exercise of reasonable diligence. The present claim was therefore not an abuse of
18. The respondents appealed. The Court of Appeal (Patten, King and Simon
LJJ) allowed the appeal in its judgment delivered on 21 March 2017 ([2018] Ch 1;
[2017] 3 WLR 853; [2017] CP Rep 23). Patten LJ, delivering the leading judgment,
said at para 30 that the appeal turned on whether Newey J was correct in holding
that a due diligence condition did not need to be satisfied.
19. Patten LJ began his examination of that issue by a reference to the judgment
of Wigram V-C in Henderson v Henderson (1843) 3 Hare 100. In that case the Vice
Chancellor had said that where a matter had been the subject of litigation and
adjudication by a court, it was required of the parties that they “bring forward their
whole case” (at p 115). When litigation had taken place, it would only be in
exceptional circumstances that parties could “open the same subject of litigation in
respect of matter[s] which might have been brought forward as part of the subject in
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contest, but which [had not been] … brought forward” because of “negligence,
inadvertence, or even accident”. This applied to “every point which properly
belonged to the subject of litigation, and which the parties, exercising reasonable
diligence, might have brought forward at the time”.
20. Henderson is certainly authority for the general principle that parties must
normally advance the totality of their case on the first bout of litigation. It is not
open to them, save in exceptional circumstances, to bring up a point which should
have been raised in that litigation and which could, with reasonable diligence, have
been discovered and canvassed on the first trial. Henderson does not speak,
however, on two subjects which are critical in the present case. The first of these is
whether the rule applies where the new point was not in issue between the parties
on the first trial and where, if it had been and evidence on the point had been led, a
different outcome might have ensued. The second subject concerns the question
whether the rule in Henderson requires modification or disapplication where the
new issue raises an allegation of fraud by which, it is claimed, the original judgment
was obtained.
21. The second case on this subject referred to by Patten LJ was Virgin Atlantic
Airways Ltd v Zodiac Seats UK Ltd (formerly Contour Aerospace Ltd) [2014] AC
160. In his judgment in that case, Lord Sumption rejected the suggestion that the
principle propounded in Henderson should be treated as applying only to the law
governing abuse of process and not as an application of the doctrine of res judicata.
At para 26, Lord Sumption had said that, “[w]here the existence or non-existence of
a cause of action has been decided in earlier proceedings, to allow a direct challenge
to the outcome, even in changed circumstances and with material not available
before, offends the core policy against the re-litigation of identical claims.” I do not
consider that Lord Sumption’s statement in this passage has any bearing on the
issues which arise on this appeal. The “existence or non-existence” of fraud has not
been decided in the proceedings before Judge Purle. It is a new issue. It does not
involve the re-litigation of an identical claim.
22. In the Virgin Atlantic case, Lord Sumption had considered the House of Lords
decision in Arnold v National Westminster Bank plc [1991] 2 AC 93. In that case,
Lord Keith had drawn a distinction between cause of action estoppel and issue
estoppel. At p 104, Lord Keith had described cause of action estoppel in this way:
“Cause of action estoppel arises where the cause of action in
the later proceedings is identical to that in the earlier
proceedings, the latter having been between the same parties or
their privies and having involved the same subject matter. In
such a case the bar is absolute in relation to all points decided
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unless fraud or collusion is alleged, such as to justify setting
aside the earlier judgment.”
23. He considered that a distinction between this and issue estoppel should be
recognised and said, at p 109:
“In my opinion your Lordships should affirm it to be the law
that there may be an exception to issue estoppel in the special
circumstance that there has become available to a party further
material relevant to the correct determination of a point
involved in the earlier proceedings, whether or not that point
was specifically raised and decided, being material which could
not by reasonable diligence have been adduced in those
24. At para 35 of the judgment in the present appeal, Patten LJ said this about
Lord Keith’s speech in Arnold:
“These passages in Lord Keith’s speech in Arnold were
affirmed by the Supreme Court in Virgin Atlantic and have to
be treated as settled law so far as this court is concerned. It is
therefore clear that even in a case of issue estoppel the point
cannot be re-litigated unless the new material could not with
due diligence have been produced at the earlier hearing: see
Lord Sumption at para 22. It follows that Mrs Takhar would
not be able to re-litigate the issue of the terms of the November
2005 agreement unless she can rely on evidence that she could
not with due diligence have produced at the trial.”
25. It is important to note that Lord Keith, in the first passage quoted, at para 22
above, (dealing with cause of action estoppel), does not suggest that there is a
reasonable diligence requirement in cases of fraud or collusion. And in the second
passage, at para 23 above, (which concerns issue estoppel) he does not mention fraud
at all. In my opinion, it is not to be assumed that Lord Keith was suggesting that due
diligence was a prerequisite in cases of fraud.
26. Patten LJ had referred to Lord Sumption’s judgment in Virgin Atlantic, para
22, as supporting the proposition that a fresh point could not be relitigated unless
the new material could not with reasonable diligence have been produced at the
earlier hearing. It is important to note exactly what Lord Sumption said at para 22
in Virgin Atlantic:
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“Arnold v National Westminster Bank plc [1991] 2 AC 93 is
accordingly authority for the following propositions. (1) Cause
of action estoppel is absolute in relation to all points which had
to be and were decided in order to establish the existence or
non-existence of a cause of action. (2) Cause of action estoppel
also bars the raising in subsequent proceedings of points
essential to the existence or non-existence of a cause of action
which were not decided because they were not raised in the
earlier proceedings, if they could with reasonable diligence and
should in all the circumstances have been raised. (3) Except in
special circumstances where this would cause injustice, issue
estoppel bars the raising in subsequent proceedings of points
which (i) were not raised in the earlier proceedings or (ii) were
raised but unsuccessfully. If the relevant point was not raised,
the bar will usually be absolute if it could with reasonable
diligence and should in all the circumstances have been raised.”
27. The significance of this paragraph, so far as concerns the present case, lies in
what it does not assert and the qualifications which it contains. It does not address
the question of fraud at all. Moreover, the first proposition which Lord Sumption
makes, that cause of action estoppel is an absolute bar in relation to such points as
had to be and were decided in order to establish the existence or non-existence of a
cause of action, is of no relevance at all in the present appeal. The case before Judge
Purle did not involve an allegation of fraud on the part of the Krishans. The points
which “had to be or were decided” in Mrs Takhar’s case before Judge Purle were
not concerned with possible fraud.
28. The second proposition in Lord Sumption’s para 22, that cause of action
estoppel prohibits the raising of points in subsequent proceedings which had not
been decided because they were not raised in the earlier proceedings, must be read
in context. Again, the issue of fraud is not mentioned. And Lord Sumption has
expressly espoused the reasoning of Lord Keith in Arnold where reasonable
diligence is not said to be a requirement in cases of fraud or collusion. Given that, I
do not consider that the second proposition in para 22 of Virgin Atlantic should be
interpreted as covering cases of fraud.
29. As to issue estoppel and the third proposition in para 22, it is clear that Lord
Sumption did not prescribe a universally applicable rule. He was careful to qualify
his statement (that issue estoppel bars the raising in subsequent proceedings of
points which were not raised in the earlier proceedings or were raised but
unsuccessfully), by saying that the bar will usually be absolute if it could with
reasonable diligence and should in all the circumstances have been raised. And, of
course, there is again no mention of fraud in this context. I do not consider, therefore,
that Virgin Atlantic is authority for the proposition expressed by Patten LJ.
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30. In any event, at para 37, Patten LJ accepted the submission of Mr Wardell
QC (who appeared on behalf of Mrs Takhar before the Court of Appeal and this
court) that the “obstacle faced by Mrs Takhar was not one of issue estoppel”. He
also accepted that she was not challenging an earlier decision of the judge about the
authenticity of the profit share agreement. As Patten LJ observed, “[t]he allegation
about her signature being forged was not raised or decided at the trial of the 2008
31. But the Court of Appeal considered that, although it was not concerned with
a question of res judicata in the strict sense of issue or cause of action estoppel, it
had to deal with what it described, at para 37, as “the wider policy considerations
embodied in the rule in Henderson v Henderson”. Those policy considerations were
engaged, Patten LJ said, “whenever a litigant seeks to challenge an earlier decision
of a competent court, whether directly or indirectly, by commencing new
proceedings in which the same issues arise or seeks directly by way of appeal to
challenge the judge’s decision on the basis of new evidence.”. On that account,
Patten LJ concluded, “If the challenge … is by way of an action seeking to set the
judge’s order aside on the ground that it was obtained by fraud the real question …
is whether this amounts to an abuse of process if the success of the action depends
upon evidence which could with reasonable diligence have been produced at the
earlier trial.”
32. I do not agree with this conclusion. In the first instance, this is not a case of
commencing new proceedings where the same issues arise. As Patten LJ had earlier
said, the question of Mrs Takhar’s signature having been forged had not been raised
or decided in the trial before Judge Purle. The appellant does not seek to set aside
Judge Purle’s decision on any of the issues decided by him. Secondly, for the reasons
that I have given, I do not consider that in Arnold or Virgin Atlantic there has been
an unequivocal judicial statement that seeking to set aside a judgment on the basis
that it was obtained by fraud constitutes an abuse of process, if evidence of the fraud
could, with reasonable diligence, have been obtained and produced at the earlier
33. I accept, however, that the question whether fraud should “unravel all” even
where discovery of its existence was possible before the original trial does give rise
to intensely relevant policy considerations. These are considered in the next section
of this judgment.
34. In para 38 Patten LJ referred to the case of Phosphate Sewage Co Ltd v
Molleson (1879) 4 App Cas 801. It had been argued in that case that evidence of
fraud other than that presented at the original trial should be allowed to enable a
company to claim repayment of a sum which it had paid to a bankrupt. The company
had subsequently obtained further evidence of the fraud. It sought to advance a new
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case founded on that evidence. The House of Lords held that the new allegations of
fraud were based on facts within the company’s knowledge at the time of the first
trial. The plea of res judicata succeeded, therefore. Importantly, Earl Cairns LC said,
at p 814, that it would be “intolerable” if a party who had been unsuccessful in
litigation could re-open it merely because,
“… since the former litigation there is another fact going
exactly in the same direction with the facts stated before,
leading up to the same relief [as had been] asked for before, but
it being in addition to the facts [in the previous litigation], it
ought now to be allowed to be the foundation of a new
litigation, and [he] should be allowed to commence a new
litigation merely upon the allegation of this additional fact.”
35. The contrast with the present case is immediately obvious. This is not an
instance of the appellant seeking to adduce evidence of facts “going in the same
direction” as facts previously stated, because Mrs Takhar had not asserted that the
Krishans had been guilty of fraud, merely that she had no recollection of having
signed the profit share agreement. The relief that she seeks now is quite different
from that which she had earlier claimed. Previously, she sought to avoid the effect
of the agreement because of undue influence and unconscionability on the part of
the Krishans. Now she claims that the agreement on which they rely was, in its
written form, a forgery.
36. Now, it is true that Earl Cairns had also said in the Phosphate Sewage case,
at p 814, that “the only way in which [new evidence] could possibly be admitted
would be if the litigant were prepared to say, I will shew you that this is a fact which
entirely changes the aspect of the case, and I will shew you further that it was not,
and could not by reasonable diligence have been, ascertained by me before.” But the
essential context of this observation is set by the earlier passage quoted above. It is
where precisely the same relief as had previously been claimed is sought again. In
my view, it is not appropriate to lift the requirement of reasonable diligence out of
the context in which it appears and to import it into a different scenario, namely,
where a changed basis for success for the appellant is advanced.
37. Patten LJ acknowledged that Earl Cairns’ statement of principle was
expressed in relation to a plea of res judicata and that that was how it had been
treated by Lord Keith in Arnold (para 39, per Patten LJ). But he suggested that the
rule expressed by Earl Cairns was said by Lord Diplock in Hunter v Chief Constable
of the West Midlands Police [1982] AC 529 to be “relevant more generally as a
statement of the conditions which must be satisfied to justify a departure from the
policy of not permitting a party to challenge prior decisions by a court of competent
jurisdiction in which case it is relevant to whether it would be an abuse of process
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to seek to set a judgment aside without satisfying the reasonable diligence
condition.” (Patten LJ, also at para 39.)
38. Again, it is important to recognise the context in which Lord Diplock made
his remarks about the application of the rule. Hunter was a case in which those who
had been convicted of planting bombs in Birmingham sought to establish, by civil
action, that they had been subjected to ill-treatment before they confessed to
involvement in the bombings. This was described as a collateral attack on the
correctness of their convictions. At p 545 Lord Diplock said:
“There remains to be considered the circumstances in which
the existence at the commencement of the civil action of ‘fresh
evidence’ obtained since the criminal trial and the probative
weight of such evidence justify making an exception to the
general rule of public policy that the use of civil actions to
initiate collateral attacks on final decisions against the
intending plaintiff by criminal courts of competent jurisdiction
should be treated as an abuse of the process of the court.”
39. The context of the issue in Hunter is therefore firmly set. It is whether a
challenge to the correctness of a criminal conviction amounts to an abuse of process.
This is, self-evidently, an entirely different situation from that which arises in the
present case. And it immediately gives rise to concern about whether it is acceptable
to apply a test fashioned for the circumstances of collateral challenge to a criminal
conviction to the markedly dissimilar setting of seeking to set aside a civil judgment
because it was obtained by a fraud which had not been alleged or adjudicated on at
the original trial.
40. Patten LJ referred to the decision of the Privy Council in Owens Bank Ltd v
Etoile Commerciale SA [1995] 1 WLR 44, (“Etoile”) where Lord Templeman had
“An English judgment is impeachable in an English court on
the ground that the first judgment was obtained by fraud but
only by the production and establishment of evidence newly
discovered since the trial and not reasonably discoverable
before the trial: see Boswell v Coaks (No 2) (1894) 86 LT
As Newey J observed in his judgment in the present case, the reasonable diligence
test is not to be found in Boswell v Coaks (which Lord Templeman had cited as
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authority that it was required). Moreover, the Etoile case involved a decision by the
Court of Appeal of St Vincent and the Grenadines that an action claiming damages
for fraud should be struck out as an abuse of process in circumstances where in
earlier proceedings in France it had been alleged that the date on a critical document
had been forged – in effect, an allegation of fraud. That case had been rejected by
the French court, so that the position in the Etoile case was that the bank sought to
rely for a second time on fraud. This distinguishes it from the present appeal. In any
event, the Board dismissed the appeal on the basis that it was for the St Vincent
courts to control their own process and to decide whether the bank’s attempt to reopen the issue of fraud was an abuse of it. Lord Templeman’s remarks were
therefore obiter.
41. Newey J’s criticism of Lord Templeman’s statement of principle was rejected
by Patten LJ. He suggested that this was consistent with the earlier decision of the
House of Lords in Owens Bank Ltd v Bracco [1992] 2 AC 443 (Bracco). In that case
Lord Bridge, at p 483, had articulated “the common law rule” in this area as being:
“… that the unsuccessful party who has been sued to judgment
is not permitted to challenge that judgment on the ground that
it was obtained by fraud unless he is able to prove that fraud by
fresh evidence which was not available to him and could not
have been discovered with reasonable diligence before the
judgment was delivered.”
It is important to be mindful of the rider which Lord Bridge added to this exposition,
however. Later, in the same passage he said:
“The rule rests on the principle that there must be finality in
litigation which would be defeated if it were open to the
unsuccessful party in one action to bring a second action to
relitigate the issue determined against him simply on the
ground that the opposing party had obtained judgment in the
first action by perjured evidence.” (Emphasis added)
42. The rule is therefore expressed to apply when there is a proposed re-litigation
of the issue of fraud which had been determined in the earlier litigation. That is not
the position here. Mrs Takhar seeks to raise the fraud of the Krishans for the first
time. It should be noted that Lord Bridge referred to re-litigation of the issue which
had been determined against the party seeking to reopen the case. The issue of the
Krishans’ alleged fraud has not been determined. I do not consider, therefore, that
Bracco forbids a challenge to a judgment which, it is claimed, was obtained by fraud,
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where that issue was not canvassed at the first trial. Likewise, it does not prohibit
Mrs Takhar from pursuing her present action.
Is fraud “a thing apart”; does it “unravel all”?
43. In HIH Casualty and General Insurance Ltd v Chase Manhattan Bank [2003]
2 Lloyds Rep 61, para 15, Lord Bingham of Cornhill said that:
“… fraud is a thing apart. This is not a mere slogan. It also
reflects an old legal rule that fraud unravels all … once fraud is
proved, ‘it vitiates judgments, contracts and all transactions
whatsoever’: Lazarus Estates Ltd v Beasley [1956] 1 All ER
341 at 345, [1956] 1 QB 702 at 712 per Denning LJ. Parties
entering into a commercial contract will no doubt recognise and
accept the risk of errors and omissions in the preceding
negotiations, even negligent errors and omissions. But each
party will assume the honesty and good faith of the other;
absent such an assumption they would not deal.”
44. This reflects the basic principle that the law does not expect people to arrange
their affairs on the basis that others may commit fraud. It also carries echoes of what
Lord Wilberforce said in The Ampthill Peerage [1977] AC 547, 569:
“… any determination of disputable fact may, the law
recognises, be imperfect: the law aims at providing the best and
safest solution … and having reached that solution it closes the
book … in the interest of peace, certainty and security it
prevents further inquiry … there are cases where the certainty
of justice prevails over the possibility of truth … and these are
cases where the law insists on finality. For a policy of closure
to be compatible with justice, it must be attended with
safeguards: so the law allows appeals: so the law,
exceptionally, allows appeals out of time: so the law still more
exceptionally allows judgments to be attacked on the ground of
45. This passage from Lord Wilberforce’s speech resonates with earlier
authority. In Hip Foong Hong v H Neotia & Co [1918] AC 888, 894, Lord
Buckmaster said:
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“In all applications for a new trial the fundamental ground must
be that there has been a miscarriage of justice. If no charge of
fraud or surprise is brought forward, it is not sufficient to show
that there was further evidence that could have been adduced
to support the claim of the losing parties; the applicant must go
further and show that the evidence was of such a character that
it would, so far as can be foreseen, have formed a determining
factor in the result. Such considerations do not apply to
questions of surprise, and still less to questions of fraud. A
judgment that is tainted and affected by fraudulent conduct is
tainted throughout, and the whole must fail …”
46. The clear implication from this statement is that in cases of fraud, unlike other
instances of claimed miscarriages of justice, it is not necessary to show that the
further evidence would have been a determining factor in the result. And, if it was
not necessary to show that, it could hardly be said that it would have to be shown
that evidence of the fraud could not have been obtained before the first trial by the
exercise of reasonable diligence (a more rigorous requirement, by any standard).
47. A need to show reasonable diligence did not feature in Jonesco v Beard
[1930] AC 298, where an application was made to set aside a judgment obtained by
fraud. At p 300, Lord Buckmaster said
“the proper method of impeaching a completed judgment on
the ground of fraud is by action in which, as in any other action
based on fraud, the particulars of the fraud must be exactly
given and the allegations established by the strict proof such a
charge requires.”
No mention was made of a need to show that evidence of the fraud could not have
been uncovered by reasonable diligence. If that was deemed to be a requirement, it
would surely have been mentioned at this point. This is particularly so because
affidavits relating to evidence other than fraud, which had not been produced at the
trial, were said by Lord Buckmaster not to be capable of sustaining the case for
setting aside the judgment because “there was no sufficient explanation of why the
evidence had not been made available at the trial” (at p 300). The same stricture was
not applied to the argument in relation to fraud.
48. The special place occupied by fraud in the setting aside of judgments
obtained by its use has been recognised in Australia and Canada. In McDonald v
McDonald (1965) 113 CLR 529 the High Court of Australia applied Hip Foong
Hong and Jonesco v Beard and rejected the notion that, to set aside a judgment
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obtained by fraud, it had to be shown that evidence of the fraud could not have been
obtained by reasonable diligence before the trial which led to the judgment sought
to be set aside. Barwick CJ contrasted the position where a verdict was impeached
on the basis of fresh evidence with that where it was obtained by fraud. At p 533 he
“But if the fresh evidence does not satisfy all these
requirements so that a new trial could not be ordered on the
basis of the discovery of fresh evidence, but does tend to
establish that the verdict was obtained by fraud … the court may
grant a new trial … if the court … finds the fact of the fraud …
to be proved …”
At p 542, Menzies J discussed the grounds on which a new trial can be ordered on
the basis of fresh evidence and then observed, “[t]his leaves untouched the rule that,
if by any means it be proved affirmatively that the earlier judgment was tainted by
fraud, it will, without more, be set aside.” (Emphasis added)
49. This decision was followed in Toubia v Schwenke [2002] NSWCA 34; (2002)
54 NSWLR 46. As Newey J stated in para 33 of his judgment in this case, in Toubia
Handley JA, with whom Heydon JA and Hodgson JA agreed, concluded (in para
41) that “[i]n an action for fraud, a plaintiff must prove that he was deceived but
need not prove that he was diligent.” Handley JA continued:
“Where the action seeks the judicial rescission of a judgment,
the plaintiff must prove that he and the court were deceived and
he can only do this by showing that he has discovered the truth
since the trial. Where this is done, and the fresh facts are
material, fraud is established. Lord Buckmaster [in Hip Foong
Hong v H Neotia and Co [1918] AC 888] said that if fraud was
proved the judgment was vitiated, and he can only have meant
that nothing else had to be proved apart from fraud. That means
there is no need to prove due diligence as well.”
50. Handley JA, in an earlier passage of his judgment, gave a powerful defence
of this principle. Referring to the argument that the dicta in Owens Bank Ltd v
Bracco [1992] AC 443 were to the effect that, if fraud was alleged (even for the first
time) in an application to set aside a judgment, it had to be shown that it could not
have been discovered with reasonable diligence, at paras 37 and 38 he said:
Page 16
“37. I would not follow the dicta in Owens Bank Ltd v
Bracco, Owens Bank Ltd v Etoile Commerciale SA, … even if
there was no High Court decision [in McDonald v McDonald]
on the point because, with respect, the dicta are contrary to
principle and earlier authority. The assumption is that the court
and the losing party were successfully imposed on by the fraud
of the successful party, but relief should nevertheless be denied
and the judgment allowed to stand because the defrauded party
was careless or lacked diligence in the preparation of his case.
… Contributory negligence is not a defence to an action for
fraud whether the relief claimed is rescission or damages. As
Brennan J said in Gould v Vaggelas (1985) 157 CLR 215, 252:
‘A knave does not escape liability because he is dealing
with a fool.’
38. Means of knowledge of the falsity of the representation
without actual knowledge is no defence and a representee has
no duty to make inquiries to ascertain the truth.”
51. In Canada v Granitile Inc (2008) 302 DLR (4th) 40, the Ontario Superior
Court of Justice reached the same conclusion. At para 299, Lederer J said:
“A failure to exercise due diligence, where fraud might
otherwise have been discovered, is not enough to sustain a
judgment which resulted from that fraud.”
He developed that theme at para 303 where he said:
“All of this is consistent with and in furtherance of the
fundamental proposition that ‘Fraud unravels everything’ …
We are not required to be ‘perpetually on guard’ so that we are
looking to discover the fraud of another party … Where fraud
is present, finality will give way to the responsibility of the
court to protect its process ‘so as to ensure that litigants do not
profit from their improper conduct’ …”
52. Newey J found the reasoning in the Australian and Canadian cases
compelling. I also. The idea that a fraudulent individual should profit from passivity
or lack of reasonable diligence on the part of his or her opponent seems antithetical
to any notion of justice. Quite apart from this, the defrauder, in obtaining a judgment,
Page 17
has perpetrated a deception not only on their opponent and the court but on the rule
of law. Newey J put it well when he said, at para 37 of his judgment:
“Supposing that a party to a case in which judgment had been
given against him could show that his opponent had obtained
the judgment entirely on the strength of, say, concocted
documentation and perjured evidence, it would strike me as
wrong if he could not challenge the judgment even if the fraud
could reasonably have been discovered. Were it impossible to
impugn the judgment, the winner could presumably have been
sent to prison for his fraudulent conduct and yet able to enforce
the judgment he had procured by means of it: the judgment
could still, in effect, be used to further the fraud.”
53. I agree with all of that. It appears to me that the policy arguments for
permitting a litigant to apply to have judgment set aside where it can be shown that
it has been obtained by fraud are overwhelming.
54. For the reasons that I have given, I do not consider that the Etoile and Bracco
cases are authority for the proposition that, in cases where it is alleged that a
judgment was obtained by fraud, it may only be set aside where the party who makes
that application can demonstrate that the fraud could not have been uncovered with
reasonable diligence in advance of the obtaining of the judgment. If, however, they
have that effect, I consider that they should not be followed. In my view, it ought
now to be recognised that where it can be shown that a judgment has been obtained
by fraud, and where no allegation of fraud had been raised at the trial which led to
that judgment, a requirement of reasonable diligence should not be imposed on the
party seeking to set aside the judgment.
55. Two qualifications to that general conclusion should be made. Where fraud
has been raised at the original trial and new evidence as to the existence of the fraud
is prayed in aid to advance a case for setting aside the judgment, it seems to me that
it can be argued that the court having to deal with that application should have a
discretion as to whether to entertain the application. Since that question does not
arise in the present appeal, I do not express any final view on it. The second relates
to the possibility that, in some circumstances, a deliberate decision may have been
taken not to investigate the possibility of fraud in advance of the first trial, even if
that had been suspected. If that could be established, again, I believe that a discretion
whether to allow an application to set aside the judgment would be appropriate but,
once more, I express no final view on the question. In Mrs Takhar’s case, she did
Page 18
suspect that there may have been fraud but it is clear that she did not make a
conscious decision not to investigate it. To the contrary, she sought permission to
engage an expert but, as already explained, this application was refused.
56. At para 26 of his judgment, Newey J said that the principles which govern
applications to set aside judgments for fraud had been summarised by Aikens LJ in
Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Highland Financial Partners lp [2013] 1 CLC 596,
para 106. There, Aikens LJ said:
“The principles are, briefly: first, there has to be a ‘conscious
and deliberate dishonesty’ in relation to the relevant evidence
given, or action taken, statement made or matter concealed,
which is relevant to the judgment now sought to be impugned.
Secondly, the relevant evidence, action, statement or
concealment (performed with conscious and deliberate
dishonesty) must be ‘material’. ‘Material’ means that the fresh
evidence that is adduced after the first judgment has been given
is such that it demonstrates that the previous relevant evidence,
action, statement or concealment was an operative cause of the
court’s decision to give judgment in the way it did. Put another
way, it must be shown that the fresh evidence would have
entirely changed the way in which the first court approached
and came to its decision. Thus the relevant conscious and
deliberate dishonesty must be causative of the impugned
judgment being obtained in the terms it was. Thirdly, the
question of materiality of the fresh evidence is to be assessed
by reference to its impact on the evidence supporting the
original decision, not by reference to its impact on what
decision might be made if the claim were to be retried on honest
57. I agree that these are the relevant principles to be applied. I also agree with
Newey J’s view (expressed at para 47 of his judgment) that Mrs Takhar’s application
to set aside the judgment of Judge Purle has the potential to meet the requirements
which Aikens LJ outlined. She should not be fixed with a further obligation to show
that the fraud which she now alleges could not have been discovered before the
original trial by reasonable diligence on her part.
58. I would therefore allow the appeal and restore the order of Newey J that Mrs
Takhar’s case should be allowed to proceed to trial.
Page 19
LORD SUMPTION: (with whom Lord Hodge, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lord
Kitchin agree)
59. Subject to what follows, I agree with the judgment of Lord Kerr. I add some
observations of my own only because the disorderly state of the authorities is apt to
make the question before us appear more complicated than it really is. In my view,
the basic principles on which this case falls to be decided are reasonably
60. An action to set aside an earlier judgment for fraud is not a procedural
application but a cause of action. As applied to judgments obtained by fraud, the
historical background was explained by Sir George Jessell MR in Flower v Lloyd
(1877) 6 Ch D 297, 299-300. Equity has always exercised a special jurisdiction to
reverse transactions procured by fraud. A party to earlier litigation was entitled to
bring an original bill in equity to set aside the judgment given in that litigation on
the ground that it was obtained by fraud. Such a bill could be brought without leave,
because it was brought in support of a substantive right. If the fact and materiality
of the fraud were established, the party bringing the bill was absolutely entitled to
have the earlier judgment set aside. In this respect, an original bill differed from a
bill of review on the basis of further evidence, which was essentially procedural and
did require leave. After the fusion of law and equity in the 1870, the procedure by
way of original bill was superseded by a procedure by action on the same juridical
61. The cause of action to set aside a judgment in earlier proceedings for fraud is
independent of the cause of action asserted in the earlier proceedings. It relates to
the conduct of the earlier proceedings, and not to the underlying dispute. There can
therefore be no question of cause of action estoppel. Nor can there be any question
of issue estoppel, because the basis of the action is that the decision of the issue in
the earlier proceedings is vitiated by the fraud and cannot bind the parties: Director
of Public Prosecutions v Humphrys [1977] AC 1, 21 (Viscount Dilhorne). If the
claimant establishes his right to have the earlier judgment set aside, it will be of no
further legal relevance qua judgment. It follows that res judicata cannot therefore
arise in either of its classic forms.
62. The rule, originally stated by Wigram V-C in Henderson v Henderson (1843)
3 Hare 100, 115, that a party is precluded from raising in subsequent proceedings
matters which were not, but could and should have been raised in the earlier ones,
is commonly treated as a branch of the law of res judicata. It has the same policy
objective and the same preclusive effect. But, it is better analysed as part of the
juridically distinct but overlapping principle which empowers the court to restrain
abuses of its process. The relationship between the two concepts was examined by
this court in Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Zodiac Seats UK Ltd [2014] AC 160,
Page 20
paras 22-25. Whereas res judicata is a rule of substantive law, abuse of process is a
concept which informs the exercise of the court’s procedural powers. These are part
of the wider jurisdiction of the court to protect its process from wasteful and
potentially oppressive duplicative litigation even in cases where the relevant
question was not raised or decided on the earlier occasion. Since the decisions of the
House of Lords in Arnold v National Westminster Bank plc [1991] 2 AC 93 and
Johnson v Gore Wood & Co [2002] 2 AC 1 it has been recognised that where a
question was not raised or decided in the earlier proceedings but could have been,
the jurisdiction to restrain abusive re-litigation is subject to a degree of flexibility
which reflects its procedural character. This allows the court to give effect to the
wider interests of justice raised by the circumstances of each case.
63. It is this flexibility which supplies the sole juridical basis on which the
respondents can argue that the evidence of fraud must not only be new but such as
could not with reasonable diligence have been deployed in the earlier proceedings.
It is also the basis on which Lord Briggs, in his judgment on the present appeal,
suggests a less absolute rule than that proposed by Lord Kerr. I cannot accept either
the respondents’ argument, or Lord Briggs’ more moderate variant of it. The reason
is that proceedings of this kind are abusive only where the point at issue and the
evidence deployed in support of it not only could have been raised in the earlier
proceedings but should have been: see Johnson v Gore-Wood & Co, at p 31 (Lord
Bingham of Cornhill) and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Zodiac Seats UK Ltd, para
22 (Lord Sumption). As Lord Bingham observed in the former case, it is “wrong to
hold that because a matter could have been raised in earlier proceedings it should
have been, so as to render the raising of it in later proceedings necessarily abusive.”
The “should” in this formulation refers to something which the law would expect a
reasonable person to do in his own interest and in that of the efficient conduct of
litigation. However, the basis on which the law unmakes transactions, including
judgments, which have been procured by fraud is that a reasonable person is entitled
to assume honesty in those with whom he deals. He is not expected to conduct
himself or his affairs on the footing that other persons are dishonest unless he knows
that they are. That is why it is not a defence to an action in deceit to say that the
victim of the deceit was foolish or negligent to allow himself to be taken in: Central
Railway Company of Venezuela v Kisch (1867) LR 2 HL 99, 120 (Lord Chelmsford);
Redgrave v Hurd (1881) 20 Ch D 1, 13-17 (Jessell MR). It follows that unless on
the earlier occasion the claimant deliberately decided not to investigate a suspected
fraud or rely on a known one, it cannot be said that he “should” have raised it.
64. Nor do I accept Lord Briggs’ view that a more flexible and fact-sensitive
approach may be required in order to distinguish between degrees of dishonesty. I
think that this would introduce an unacceptable element of discretion into the
enforcement of a substantive right. The standard of proof for fraud is high, and
rightly so. But once it is satisfied, there are no degrees of fraud which can affect the
right to have the judgment set aside.
Page 21
65. Dicta apart, the only direct authority for a requirement that the new evidence
should be such as could not with reasonable diligence have been deployed in the
earlier proceedings is McIlkenny v Chief Constable of the West Midlands [1980] 1
QB 283, affirmed sub nom. Hunter v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police
[1982] AC 529. This was an action for damages for assault committed in the course
of a police investigation into the Birmingham bombing of November 1974, which
had ultimately led to the plaintiffs’ prosecution and conviction for murder. The same
allegation of assault had been made at the criminal trial as an objection to the
admission of a confession. The trial judge had rejected it on a voir dire. The
subsequent civil action was struck out as an abuse of process, because it was a
collateral attack on the trial judge’s ruling on the admissibility of the confession and
thus on the conviction. The actual decision is distinguishable on a number of counts.
The earlier proceedings were criminal. Moreover, the result of the civil action, if it
had succeeded, would have been to discredit a subsisting conviction without setting
it aside. The reasoning, however, is not so readily distinguishable. In the Court of
Appeal Goff LJ, at pp 333-335, relied on the authorities on setting aside civil
judgments for fraud. These supported the proposition that decisive new evidence
must be available in the later proceedings, but in summarising them Goff LJ added
a requirement, which they did not support, that the evidence could not with
reasonable diligence have been deployed in the earlier proceedings. The sole
authority for that refinement was Goff LJ himself. His formulation of the test was
endorsed by Lord Diplock, delivering the only reasoned speech in the House of
Lords, [1982] AC 529, 545. There are dicta to the same effect in cases arising out of
actions to set aside judgments in civil proceedings: see Lord Bridge in Owens Bank
Ltd v Bracco [1992] 2 AC 443, 483 and Lord Templeman in Owens Bank Ltd v
Etoile Commerciale SA [1995] 1 WLR 44, 48. It may well be that policy
considerations justify such a principle where a collateral attack is mounted on a
criminal conviction following a trial in which the same issue was decided. There are
other procedures for reopening unsafe criminal convictions in such cases. As is well
known, these were ultimately invoked and resulted in the convictions of the
plaintiffs and McIlkenny and Hunter being quashed. I would respectfully decline to
treat the statements in those cases as applying to proceedings to set aside a civil
judgment and would hold that the dicta in the two Owens Bank cases were mistaken.
None of these judicial statements sufficiently distinguishes between (i) the
proposition that an action to set aside a civil judgment must be based on new
evidence not before the court in the earlier proceedings, and (ii) the proposition that
that evidence must not have been obtainable by reasonable diligence for the earlier
proceedings. The first proposition is well established. The second is not supported
by any authority earlier than McIlkenny and appears to me to be an insufficient
answer to an allegation that a civil judgment has been obtained against the claimant
by the deliberate fraud of another party. This is the effect of the decision of the High
Court of Australia in McDonald v McDonald (1965) 13 CLR 529, in which the two
propositions were carefully and separately considered. It was also the reason why in
Toubia v Schwenke (2002) NSWLR 46 the New South Wales Court of Appeal
observed that even in the absence of binding Australian authority they would have
Page 22
regarded the dicta in the two Owens Bank cases as being contrary to principle and
declined to follow them. In my opinion the Australian cases on this point are correct.
66. I would leave open the question whether the position as I have summarised
it is any different where the fraud was raised in the earlier proceedings but
unsuccessfully. My provisional view is that the position is the same, for the same
reasons. If decisive new evidence is deployed to establish the fraud, an action to set
aside the judgment will lie irrespective of whether it could reasonably have been
deployed on the earlier occasion unless a deliberate decision was then taken not to
investigate or rely on the material.
67. I recognise the risk of frivolous or extravagant litigation to set aside
judgments on the ground of fraud, but like other members of the court, I think that
the stringent conditions set out by Aikens LJ in Royal Bank of Scotland plc v
Highland Financial Partners lp [2013] 1 CLC 596, para 106, combined with the
professional duties of counsel, are enough keep it within acceptable limits. I do not
think that the imposition of further conditions would be consistent with the longstanding policy of equity of reversing transactions procured by fraud.
68. This appeal turns on the outcome of a bare-knuckle fight between two
important and long-established principles of public policy. The first is that fraud
unravels all. The second is that there must come an end to litigation. I will call them
the fraud principle and the finality principle. On the facts of this case I agree with
Lord Kerr that the fraud principle should prevail. As will appear I also agree with
most of his reasoning. But I have been unable to follow him all the way down a path
which seeks to erect a reliable bright-line boundary between types of case where one
principle or the other should clearly prevail. There will be too many cases where
that supposed bright line is either invisible, or so technical that it fails to afford a
basis for choosing between the two principles which accords with justice, common
sense or the duty of the court to retain control over its own process, and thereby
protect it from abuse. I would have preferred a more flexible basis upon which,
recognising that many cases will straddle any bright line, the court can apply a factintensive evaluative approach to the question whether lack of diligence in pursuing
a case in fraud during the first proceedings ought to render a particular claim to set
aside the judgment in those proceedings for fraud an abuse of process. This approach
would in particular seek to weigh the gravity of the alleged fraud against the
seriousness of the lack of due diligence, always mindful of the principle that victims
of a fraud should not be deprived of a remedy merely because they are careless.
Page 23
The problems with a bright-line rule
69. Basing himself on that obvious principle of justice, Lord Kerr proposes a
clear rule that a judgment may always be set aside for fraud without regard either to
the gravity of the fraud or to any lack of reasonable diligence by the alleged victim,
unless either (i) fraud was actually alleged in the earlier proceedings, or (ii) there
was a deliberate decision not to investigate a suspected fraud. Only in those cases
should the finality principle either prevail, or at least give rise to a judicial discretion
to apply it.
70. As will appear I agree that there should be such a power (although I doubt
whether discretion is the right word) in those two types of case, but there will be
numerous other types where the absence of any such power will in my view be an
unacceptable fetter upon the court’s duty to control its own process, and to protect
itself and the parties from abuse. The problems arise mainly from the wide range in
the gravity of the alleged frauds, the low threshold of the summary judgment test
which the fraud allegation must pass to enable the allegation to be tried, and the
almost infinite levels of seriousness of the shortfall in the victim’s application of
reasonable diligence. It makes no sense to me either that a serious, pre-meditated,
skilfully executed and successful fraud should go without remedy merely because
the victim fell short of reasonable diligence by a narrow margin (as the rule
propounded by the Court of Appeal would ensure) or that something falling just on
the wrong side of honesty should expose the successful litigant to the full rigour of
a second trial, where the fraud allegation itself was only just arguable, and the
alleged victim was guilty of the most basic failure to test the other party’s case (as I
fear that Lord Kerr’s proposed rule would permit).
71. The allegation of fraud in the present case is a telling example of a grave
fraud, at the most serious end of the range. I emphasise that it is at this stage only an
untested allegation. It is said that the Krishans planned and implemented a clever
forgery of a document vital (if genuine) to their case, and that it was instrumental in
their victory. By using a genuine signature of Mrs Takhar, superimposing it on the
joint venture agreement, disposing of the original and using a copy to conceal the
superimposition, they made it as hard as they possibly could to prevent Mrs Takhar
from dealing with it. On looking at the copy document it appeared to her to be, and
indeed it was, her signature. Furthermore the alleged forgery was designed from the
outset to deceive not only Mrs Takhar but also the court, in litigation which must
have been pending when the forgery was planned and committed. By contrast the
failure in reasonable diligence may be said to have been at the less serious end of
the range. Although the relevant facts have not yet been investigated, it appears
likely that Mrs Takhar and her then legal team did take steps to investigate a forgery
which they suspected, but they left it too late.
Page 24
72. A much more familiar example might go like this. Party A tells a spur of the
moment deliberate half-truth (ie a lie) about a fact in issue when cornered during
cross-examination at trial, and the advocate for party B fails to put it to A that the
statement was a lie (ie dishonest) rather than merely a mistaken recollection, when
there were disclosed documents which plainly justified putting it as a lie, absent
from the trial bundle due to a serious failure in preparation for trial. Let it be
supposed that the deliberate concealment of the whole truth was just on the wrong
side of honesty. The trial judge gives credit to A’s evidence, in particular because
the offending half-truth was not challenged as a deliberate lie, and this materially
contributed to A’s success. A new legal team then does the necessary work on the
disclosed documents and B seeks to set aside the judgment for fraud. Neither of Lord
Kerr’s exceptions would apply. B would be able to seek a retrial of substantially the
same case, if successful in getting the judgment set aside. The court would be
powerless to stop the process as an abuse. Strictly B would be entitled to say that
the judgment had been obtained by fraud, but a retrial in such circumstances would
strike at the heart of the finality principle. On the other hand, if B’s advocate had
just said “that’s a lie Mr A”, the court would, on Lord Kerr’s analysis, although not
on Lord Sumption’s, have the requisite discretion because fraud would have been
put in issue at the trial.
73. I would suggest that, standing back from the legal technicalities, the real
reason why most reasonable observers would say that the application to set aside the
judgment in the first example should not be stayed as an abuse, but that in the second
example it should, is not because of the brief putting of fraud in issue (if it had been)
in the second, but because of the obvious disparity between them, when weighing
the gravity of the fraud against the extent of the failure in due diligence. Both
examples plainly engage both the fraud and the finality principles. In both of them
judgment is alleged to have been obtained by fraud but, equally, in both examples
the applicant is seeking, as the overall objective, completely to re-litigate the first
case, albeit as the second stage in a two-stage process.
74. The low level of the summary judgment threshold contributes to the problem
in this way. Applications to set aside a judgment for fraud present a potential double
whammy to the finality principle. Subject of course to appeals, the first judgment
should ordinarily be the end of the matter. But an application to set it aside for fraud
will itself involve a trial which, because of the seriousness of the allegation, will be
likely to be litigated with bell, book and candle, no stone being left unturned. If the
application succeeds, there will then be a third trial, namely the re-trial of the
original claim. Of course the third trial will be avoided if the application to set aside
fails on the merits, but the only protection against the multiple litigation constituted
by the trial of the fraud allegation will be if it fails to raise a triable issue.
75. Nor therefore is it appropriate to address the extent to which the fraud
principle should prevail as against the finality principle on the basis that the fraud
Page 25
has actually occurred. In particular cases the fraud allegation may be a weak one,
just passing the summary judgment test, whereas the invasion of the finality
principle in such a case will not merely be a risk but an expensive and timeconsuming actuality. If these considerations can be weighed in an evaluative balance
wherever the two principles are at loggerheads, well and good, but they would only
feature in the regime proposed by Lord Kerr if one or the other of his two exceptions
76. I agree that the dicta of Aikens LJ in in Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Highland
Financial Partners lp [2013] 1 CLC 596, para 106, cited by Lord Kerr, provide some
protection against the abusive use of fraud allegations as a way of re-opening
decided cases. But they would be unlikely to prevent the AB example from
withstanding an application for defendant’s summary judgment. A deliberate lie in
the witness box is no less fraudulent because it is committed on the spur of the
moment. If it contributed materially to the outcome, then the requirement for
causation is likely to be satisfied, at least at the level necessary to give rise to a
triable issue. But those dicta are concerned with delimiting the cause of action, not
the varied circumstances in which its pursuit may amount to an abuse.
77. I have already described by example the way in which there can be a wide
range of seriousness in a failure to conduct litigation with reasonable diligence. An
important part of the finality principle is that a party is expected to bring his whole
case about the relevant dispute to bear when it is first litigated. That is the foundation
of what used to be called the rule in Henderson v Henderson (1843) 3 Hare 100. If
a matter relevant to a dispute could have been raised in the earlier case, then it should
have been, and to litigate it even for the first time in a second case used automatically
to be prohibited. But the rigour and inflexibility of the old rule has been completely
transformed by its re-evaluation in Johnson v Gore Wood & Co [2002] 2 AC 1.
Now, even if the new matter could have been raised in the earlier proceedings, it no
longer follows that it necessarily should have been. Rather, the court conducts an
open-ended fact intensive evaluation of the question whether to raise the new matter
in a second claim is or is not an abuse. Lord Bingham said, at p 31:
“It is, however, wrong to hold that because a matter could have
been raised in earlier proceedings it should have been, so as to
render the raising of it in later proceedings necessarily abusive.
That is to adopt too dogmatic an approach to what should in my
opinion be a broad, merits-based judgment which takes account
of the public and private interests involved and also takes
account of all the facts of the case, focusing attention on the
crucial question whether, in all the circumstances, a party is
misusing or abusing the process of the court by seeking to raise
before it the issue which could have been raised before. As one
cannot comprehensively list all possible forms of abuse, so one
Page 26
cannot formulate any hard and fast rule to determine whether,
on given facts, abuse is to be found or not.”
As will appear, although neither of those cases was concerned with fraud, or with
setting aside an earlier judgment, I consider that the sea-change which was
introduced by the House of Lords in Johnson v Gore Wood presents the correct way
out of the problems thrown up by this appeal.
The authorities
78. Like Lord Kerr I do not consider that these problems are satisfactorily
resolved by the existing authorities. My main reason is that the question whether the
making of a particular type of application to a court does or does not involve an
abuse of process is not one which is to be regarded as set in stone for all time, once
resolved (if it has been) by the highest court. The abuse of process doctrine is one
which both needs to be, and has conspicuously been, adaptive to changes in litigation
culture over time, during which the pressures upon the courts and the readiness of
the courts to conduct evaluative assessments in place of the mechanical application
of bright-line rules is constantly changing. Johnson v Gore Wood is a prime but not
sole example of the courts’ capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, in an area
which is at least in part concerned with procedure.
79. In any event I agree with Lord Kerr, Lady Arden and Newey J that the
existing authorities do not upon analysis provide a reliable guide, even though there
are statements in some of them which, taken on their own, do appear to suggest that
it is settled law that a lack of reasonable diligence will always be fatal to an
application to set aside a judgment for fraud, as the Court of Appeal held. They do
not, either because the foundations of earlier authority upon which they are
expressed to be based prove upon minute analysis to be much less clear than the
later dicta which rely upon them suggest, or because there are factors about the
context in which the statements are made which are clearly distinguishable from the
present context. Owens Bank v Etoile is an example of the first, while Hunter v Chief
Constable is a clear example of the second. To the extent that the English authorities
do appear at least superficially to espouse the rule that lack of reasonable diligence
will always defeat an application to set aside a judgment for fraud, they simply fail
to face up to the invasion thereby caused into the principle that a knave should not
escape liability because he is dealing with a fool, as powerfully explained in the
Australian and Canadian cases referred to by Lord Kerr.
80. This is, therefore, an opportunity for this court to put upon a proper modern
basis the principles which ought to regulate the court’s power to give full effect to
the right of victims of fraud to obtain relief while at the same time exercising an
Page 27
evaluative power to recognise the abuse of that right, and to deal with it where it
occurs. This would have enabled the courts to maintain supervision of a type of
claim which, if uncontrolled, could turn into a flood of attempts by dissatisfied court
users aimed at re-litigation of their disputes, based upon merely arguable assertions
that they lost because an opposing party lied in the witness box, or even encouraged
a witness to do so.
The principles
81. The starting point is clearly to recognise that the right to have a judgment set
aside for fraud is a distinct cause of action recognised by the common law, like a
right to set aside a contract obtained by fraud, which is not inherently conditional
upon any requirement for the exercise of reasonable diligence in the proceedings
leading to the impugned judgment or, for that matter, the making of the impugned
contract. In short, the exercise of reasonable diligence is not in any way part of the
cause of action. It is for example fully applicable to a case in which judgment
followed upon a defendant simply letting the case go by default, if fraud was
involved in the obtaining of the judgment. It is a claim for relief obtainable as of
right (ex debito justitiae), rather than only by the invocation of a judicial discretion.
Nor does the right depend upon the seriousness of the fraud.
82. Two consequences flow from that starting point. The first is that, if no
allegation of fraud was made in the proceedings leading to the impugned judgment,
there is no question of cause of action or issue estoppel, for the reasons given by
Lord Kerr and Lord Sumption. The second is that the absence of reasonable
diligence is not of itself a reason for staying the claim to set aside the judgment. This
would be to deny relief to foolish victims of a knave, merely because of their
foolishness. The only reason to stay the application to set aside is if the lack of
reasonable diligence is so serious, in the context of all other relevant factors, that the
application can really be categorised as abusive.
83. But by contrast with claims to set aside agreements for fraud, applications to
set aside a judgment for fraud will usually engage the finality principle, because of
the re-litigation objective which normally lies at the heart of them. Leaving aside
default judgments (where there has as yet been little real litigation), the objective of
the applicant is not merely to have the impugned judgment set aside, but also to clear
the way to have the original dispute relitigated. This may be thought to be obvious
where the applicant is (like Mrs Takhar) the unsuccessful claimant in the earlier
case, but it is in substance also true of a defendant’s application. Defendants will not
of course wish thereby to bring the same claim again, but their objective is to keep
the fraudulent claimant away from their door unless the claimant undertakes the
burden of a completely new case, all the way to trial.
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84. It is in my view no answer to this analysis to say that the application to set
aside a judgment for a fraud not previously alleged will not of itself re-litigate
anything, so that the finality principle is not thereby really engaged at all. The overall
objective is re-litigation. The forensic pursuit and defence of the fraud allegation
may well travel over, or at least overlap with, ground trampled on in the original
proceedings. The present case is an obvious example, since the question whether
Mrs Takhar made the agreement in issue was central to the original trial, and would
plainly be relevant to the issue whether the document apparently recording the
agreement was a forgery. Even if it does not, the application will inevitably involve
at least the risk of further expensive and time-consuming proceedings about the
entitlement of the opposing party to relief already obtained by a judgment which,
subject to appeal, ought (in the public interest) to have put an end to the underlying
dispute. To that extent I respectfully disagree with the thrust of this part of Lord
Kerr’s analysis about the separateness of the original proceedings and the
application to set aside. In my view the contest between the fraud and finality
principles is inherent in applications of this kind, rather than only in Lord Kerr’s two
exceptions, where fraud was either alleged, or suspected but deliberately not
investigated, although it is of course present a fortiori in such cases.
85. That being so, it is in my view wrong in principle to say that the generality
of applications to set aside judgments for fraud are entirely unaffected by questions
about lack of reasonable diligence (or other factors pointing towards abuse) subject
only to the identification of specific exceptional types where a judicial discretion
may be engaged. The true principle should be to recognise that such applications
constitute the assertion of a legal right with which the court will only interfere if
satisfied that the exercise of the right is abusive, but that all such applications by
their nature give rise to a risk of abuse with which the court is duty bound to engage,
because they undermine finality by their mere pursuit, regardless of outcome. Relitigation is always unfortunate, but it by no means follows that the reason for it is
an abuse of process by the applicant. It may well be the respondent who is the real
86. I would not describe the court’s exercise of this duty to guard against abuse
as a discretion. There should be no judicial interference with the exercise of the right
to set aside a judgment for fraud unless the court is satisfied that it involves an abuse
of process. If it does, then the proceedings should be stayed. That will not be
discretionary, but it will involve the evaluation of a potentially wide range of factors.
I have already mentioned the gravity of the fraud and the extent of the shortfall from
the exercise of reasonable diligence. Those would almost always be relevant. But
the categories of potentially relevant factors are in principle unlimited. They might
include, in particular cases, the centrality (or otherwise) of the fraudulent conduct to
the outcome of the case, the extent to which (as here) the alleged fraud was
specifically aimed at taking advantage of a lack of care in the preparation of the case
by the alleged victim, the resources of the alleged victim during the first
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proceedings, the amount of toil, treasure and court time which would be thrown
away by the setting aside of the judgment, the amount of the same which would be
likely to be consumed by the trial of the fraud allegation and, if successful, the retrial of the original claim, and even the apparent strength (or otherwise) of the
allegation of fraud. But from start to finish, the question is whether the application
really is an abuse of process.
87. Nor would I expect this evaluative approach frequently to come down in
favour of a stay. The principle that fraud unravels all is deeply rooted in the common
law, and its continued application is an important contributor to honesty within
society, to the rule of law and to the ability of the courts to adjudicate disputes justly.
Fraud of this kind is all the more serious because it is aimed at deceiving the court
itself. But the court must arm itself against always having to allow re-litigation, and
potentially two further trials between the same parties, wherever the unsuccessful
party wants to allege, for the first time, that the case was lost because an opposing
party was lying about, rather than just mis-recalling, the facts in issue, and can
demonstrate an arguable case that this is what happened at trial.
88. Lord Sumption equates the setting aside a judgment for fraud with the setting
aside of any transaction for fraud on the basis that a reasonable person is entitled to
assume honesty in those with whom he deals, and is not expected to conduct himself
or his affairs on the footing that other persons are dishonest unless he knows that
they are. I fully agree with that approach to ordinary transactions out of court such
as the making of a contract. But I cannot agree that it is reasonable for a litigant
always to assume that an opponent’s case (and evidence in support of it) is honest,
with a concomitant right to conduct litigation on that basis, and to re-litigate the
same dispute whenever he can show, after judgment, an arguable case that his
assumption was wrong.
Application of the principles to this case
89. It will be apparent from the foregoing why I regard the present case as lying
very clearly on the non-abusive side of the line, without forming any view at all
about whether the allegation of this fraud will in fact be proved. If proven it was a
very serious, pre-meditated, carefully planned and executed fraud which was
instrumental in the defeat of Mrs Takhar’s claim, and plainly aimed from start to
finish at deceiving the court about the central issue in the case. For the reasons given
Mrs Takhar’s failure to use reasonable diligence was by no means at the more
serious end of the scale. The expert evidence which she has now obtained, although
thus far untested or opposed, plainly gives her a real (rather than merely arguable)
prospect of success. Her application comes nowhere near being categorised as an
abuse. I would therefore allow the appeal.
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90. This appeal concerns Mrs Takhar, who has brought an action (“a rescission
action”) to rescind a judgment against her and made available to the court fresh
evidence which, if proved at the trial of the rescission action, will demonstrate that
the winning party obtained judgment against her by fraud. Preventing a person from
prosecuting a rescission action in these circumstances amounts to restricting her
right to pursue her cause of action in fraud, and to have access to justice for that
cause of action. Therefore, the law should only impose a restriction on such a
claimant in a rescission action where there is justification for doing so.
91. I agree with Lord Kerr that there is no authority which binds this court to hold
that failure to act diligently in searching for this evidence before the original trial is,
of itself, a bar. It is easy to see how it came to be thought that reasonable diligence
in this regard had to be shown as in Boswell v Coaks (No 2) (1894) 86 LT 356n
(using the fuller report in the footnotes to Birch v Birch (1902) 86 LT 364, which is
also the report used by Lord Templeman in the passage cited by Lord Kerr at para
40 above), the Earl of Selborne, giving the judgment of the House of Lords, held
obiter, having emphasised the importance of the finality of judgments, that the rules
which applied to a bill of review before 1875 should continue to apply “in their full
force, and even with greater freedom than before”. Those rules included a threshold
condition in a rescission action that the fresh evidence “could not possibly have been
used when the decree was made” (see Thomas v Rawlings (1865) 11 LT NS 721,
722, a decision of the Court of Appeal in Chancery). Moreover, the Court of Appeal
in Birch v Birch appears obiter to have concluded that this earlier rule continued to
apply (see (1902) 86 LT 367). This may have been the reason why Goff LJ held in
McIlkenny v Chief Constable of the West Midlands [1980] QB 283, 335 that there
was such a rule. In the House of Lords, in the same case but under the name of
Hunter v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police [1982] AC 529, Lord Diplock
approved Goff LJ’s holding, but, as Lord Kerr has explained, in a different context.
Furthermore, it may be, as the Federal Court of Australia suggested in Monroe
Schneider Associates Inc v No 1 Raberem Pty Ltd (No 2) (1992) 37 FCR 234, 239,
that prior to 1875 the Chancery Court had to be somewhat circumspect when asked
to rescind a judgment given in a common law court: this might explain such
threshold conditions.
92. It is only right that in the generality of cases a judgment obtained by the fraud
of the winning party should be rescinded because it is wrong in principle that a
person who is proved to be a fraudster should obtain and retain the fruits of his fraud.
Clearly, however, a restriction can be justified in some special situations. In other
words, there are occasionally exceptions to the principle that “fraud unravels all”.
There are cases where both parties have colluded to deceive the court – in those cases
it would be an abuse of process to ask the court later to rescind the judgment. As
Lord Mansfield held in Montefiori v Montefiori (1762) 1 Black W 363, 96 ER 203
Page 31
“no man shall set up his own iniquity as a defence, any more than as a cause of
93. There are other situations: for instance, where the fraud is not material to the
outcome: see, for example, Boswell v Coaks. Likewise, a claim to set aside a decree
absolute made on divorce, which is equivalent to an order in rem, was not set aside
in Callaghan v Hanson-Fox [1992] Fam 1 because the parties knew about the
evidence and its significance. There must be actual fraud: constructive fraud is not
enough. The fraud must be one for which the defendant is responsible. There may
well be other situations which I have not mentioned. There may for instance (I
express no view) be exceptions where the judgment in the original action was
obtained by perjury during the trial or where the fraud was in fact pleaded in the first
94. Greater difficulty lies in situations where at the time of the original action a
party suspects a fraud but does not investigate it or decides not to investigate it. The
justice in this situation may not be so easily answered by allowing an unfettered
right to bring a rescission action. I would treat this as a case where the Ashingdane
principles found in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights apply
(see Ashingdane v United Kingdom (1985) 7 EHRR 528). Any restriction would
have to be derived from a rule which serves the legitimate aim of proving a just
solution, thus striking a fair balance between the relevant considerations and going
no further than necessary, and which does not defeat the core right of access to court.
95. There are factors which favour some restriction on the victim’s right in this
situation. The judgment in the original action will be final and conclusive (subject
to any appeal, and it is to be noted that on any appeal lack of reasonable diligence
in obtaining the new evidence for the trial would be relevant). Finality in judgments
leads to certainty, and hopefully to the social benefits of dispute resolution. Where
property is in issue (eg the ownership of a business), the owner following a final
judgment can develop it, invest in it and use it as security to raise money to develop
other businesses free from the risk that it might be claimed by someone else. That
also is for the economic and social benefit of the community, and there is a social
and economic cost if that process is delayed.
96. Furthermore, a litigant has plenty of opportunities to challenge the other
party’s case under the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”). Mrs Takhar could have
served notice on the respondents to prove the disputed agreement, sought further
information about it from the respondents and appealed from the denial of
permission to adduce expert handwriting evidence. A party is expected to co-operate
with the court and the other parties in ensuring that so far as possible all issues are
dealt with efficiently at a single trial. Under the overriding objective in CPR rule
1.1(1), the court must deal with cases just and proportionately and this includes
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allotting to each case “an appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking
into account the need to allot resources to other cases”. Litigation resulting in
rescission actions may involve not just one but three actions in all. There is also
always the risk that the defendant if successful will incur costs which he cannot
recover. In assessing reasonable diligence, however, it must be recalled that some
litigants do not have legal representation and also that a party is entitled to conduct
herself on the basis that the other side is not fraudulent, and that no investigations
are needed, until she has real grounds for suspecting fraud.
97. It is of course important for the efficient despatch of litigation that a court
insists on compliance with its procedural rules: failure to do so in appropriate cases
would provide an incentive to non-compliance.
98. The rule in contention on this appeal, however, held by the Court of Appeal
to be derived from case law, selects just one consideration – and one based on the
victim’s conduct. It is illogical to the extent that it automatically imposes a sanction
(a ban on bringing the second action) that may be wholly disproportionate to the
lack of diligence. Moreover, it would leave all other factors out of account, including
the defendant’s allegedly fraudulent conduct. In any event, a restriction on a person
pursuing a cause of action should in principle only be imposed where it is necessary
to do so to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
99. In addition, such a rule would take no account of the protections that can be
provided to the defendant in appropriate cases by the exercise of other procedural
powers, such as the power to strike out actions which had no real prospect of success.
Where the defendant to the rescission action considers that it is clearly not wellfounded, he can apply to strike out the action on the grounds of abuse of process or
obtain summary judgment in his favour. He can be protected in costs and also by the
strict rule of procedure that a fraud must be particularised with exactitude: see
Jonesco v Beard [1930] AC 298.
100. Where the defendant is prejudiced, and his position cannot for some reason
be safeguarded, or the rights of innocent third parties have intervened, it may be
relevant to take into account any remedies that the victim may have against her
professional advisers in the original action. Where innocent third parties have
obtained rights, there may indeed be no point in rescission of the original judgment
and the victim may have to resort to other remedies.
101. Too robust a rule favouring finality might encourage litigants to attempt to
deceive the other parties or the court. Where deceit is practised on the court, the
integrity of the legal system is put at risk and that is an important consideration
against the rule contended for.
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102. But the short point is that there is as of now at least no procedural rule about
any restriction on a person bringing a rescission action in the CPR. The drafters of
those rules may wish to consider whether the position should be changed following
these judgments. The jurisprudence of the courts of Australia and Canada cited by
Lord Kerr is instructive. It is worth noting that in Clone Pty Ltd v Players Pty Ltd
(in liquidation) (Receivers & Managers Appointed) [2018] HCA 12 the High Court
of Australia was only dealing with lack of reasonable diligence before the fraud was
discovered, but the position reached in these cases is not universal in common law
jurisdictions. For instance, a rule requiring the claimant in the rescission action to
show that he made a “reasonable effort in the original trial to ascertain the truth of
the matter” can be found in the Restatement of Judgments (Second) (1982), para 70
(American Law Institute). There is also legislative precedent for the loss of a right
of action as a result of a failure to exercise reasonable diligence in discovering fraud
in Limitation Act 1980, section 32.
103. It might be salutary if the CPR were to require a party bringing a rescission
action to provide an explanation as to his state of knowledge at the time of the first
action in his pleading in the second action, or if they enabled the court to award
some security for costs or impose other conditions if reasonable diligence was not
taken in the first action. I agree with much that Lord Sumption has said in his
judgment, but the question whether conditions should be imposed in this context
may involve considerations apart from the imperative of reopening judgments
procured by fraud and fall well short of preventing actions for that purpose being
brought. The Civil Procedure Rule Committee is empowered to introduce changes
to the CPR, and importantly the process involves consultation.
104. The statement of principles set out by Aikens LJ in Royal Bank of Scotland
plc v Highland Financial Partners lp [2013] 1 CLC 596 at para 106 approved by
Lord Kerr deals with the position at the trial of a rescission action, not with threshold
conditions on bringing such an action.
105. In the absence of any special provision in the CPR, and assuming the claim
is properly pleaded, the only remedy available to the defendant in a rescission action
is to apply to the court for an order barring the claim as an abuse of process. It must
be a matter for the respondents in this case whether to pursue that course. They may
wish to bring an application or even to contend that some exception to the general
rule which this court has found applies. There are matters which cause me some
concern on the limited evidence before this court: the fact that Mrs Takhar had
concerns about the authenticity of her signature on the agreement from 2008 (two
years before the trial), the fact that she had no other explanation in the original trial
for the fact that the agreement appeared to bear her signature, her failure to challenge
the authenticity of the agreement or to appeal the judge’s order denying permission
to adduce handwriting evidence, the fact that she has received a settlement already
from her solicitors suggesting that there was a lack of reasonable diligence (and
Page 34
clearly it cannot matter that it was the solicitors and not the client who showed lack
of diligence), and the fact that two years passed between obtaining the report of the
handwriting expert and bringing these proceedings.
106. I do not consider that it is for this court to determine the precise state of
knowledge at any time of Mrs Takhar or those representing her. It is enough to say
that in my judgment, there is not, and should not be, a rule that want of reasonable
diligence in the first action of itself leads to a blanket ban on bringing an action to
rescind a judgment which the claimant can properly allege the respondents obtained
by fraud. This appeal should be allowed and the order of Newey J restored.