From time to time, for a variety of reasons, it may become necessary to discontinue detailed assessment proceedings. This may be because they have misfired, or there are problems with a retainer, or a potential for embarrassment, or some other reason.
When they are discontinued, there is no obligation to give an explanation as to why they are being discontinued, a fact which may be of some comfort to the erstwhile receiving party and may vex the putative paying party.
The usual procedure for discontinuing proceedings under part 38 CPR is modified in certain respects.
The Practice Direction to part 47 CPR provides as follows at paragraph 9.4:
(1) The receiving party may discontinue the detailed assessment proceedings in accordance with Part 38 (Discontinuance).
(2) Where the receiving party discontinues the detailed assessment proceedings before a detailed assessment hearing has been requested, the paying party may apply to the appropriate office for an order about the costs of the detailed assessment proceedings.
(3) Where a detailed assessment hearing has been requested the receiving party may not discontinue unless the court gives permission.
(4) A bill of costs may be withdrawn by consent whether or not a detailed assessment hearing has been requested.
Rule 38.2 provides as follows:
(1) A claimant may discontinue all or part of a claim at any time.
(2) However –
(a) a claimant must obtain the permission of the court if he wishes to discontinue all or part of a claim in relation to which –
(i) the court has granted an interim injunction(GL); or
(ii) any party has given an undertaking to the court;
(b) where the claimant has received an interim payment in relation to a claim (whether voluntarily or pursuant to an order under Part 25), he may discontinue that claim only if –
(i) the defendant who made the interim payment consents in writing; or
(ii) the court gives permission;
(c) where there is more than one claimant, a claimant may not discontinue unless –
(i) every other claimant consents in writing; or
(ii) the court gives permission.
(3) Where there is more than one defendant, the claimant may discontinue all or part of a claim against all or any of the defendants.
Rule 38.3 provides as follows:
(1) To discontinue a claim or part of a claim, a claimant must –
(a) file a notice of discontinuance; and
(b) serve a copy of it on every other party to the proceedings.
(2) The claimant must state in the notice of discontinuance which he files that he has served notice of discontinuance on every other party to the proceedings.
(3) Where the claimant needs the consent of some other party, a copy of the necessary consent must be attached to the notice of discontinuance.
(4) Where there is more than one defendant, the notice of discontinuance must specify against which defendants the claim is discontinued.
Rule 38.4 provides:
(1) Where the claimant discontinues under rule 38.2(1) the defendant may apply to have the notice of discontinuance set aside.
(2) The defendant may not make an application under this rule more than 28 days after the date when the notice of discontinuance was served on him.
Rule 38.7 provides:
A claimant who discontinues a claim needs the permission of the court to make another claim against the same defendant if –
(a) he discontinued the claim after the defendant filed a defence; and
(b) the other claim arises out of facts which are the same or substantially the same as those relating to the discontinued claim.
It is noteworthy that the requirements of part 38 where permission is required, are primarily concerned with instances, where the claimant has received interim payments or an interim remedy, or given undertakings to the court, or might be contemplating a further set of proceedings.
This supports the conclusion that the requirement to obtain permission is to ensure that a claimant has to come to court to satisfy the court that such matters are “tidied up” and not left unaddressed when proceedings are concluded by way of discontinuance, or that a claimant has not obtained a collateral advantage by discontinuance or abused the process of the court by starting proceedings and discontinuing them by eg retaining interim payments.
The power to discontinue proceedings post dates the Judicature Acts of 1873-75 and replaced the common-law power of non-suiting a litigant. The root of modern authority lies in the case of Castanho.v.Brown & Root  AC 557where the House of Lords per Lord Scarman at pages 571-572 considered when it might be appropriate to strike out a Notice of Discontinuance as an abuse of process (there being no requirement in the RSC as then formulated to seek the court’s permission) and the conclusion at page 577 that discontinuance would be permitted once the issues of costs, repayment of interim payments and future proceedings had been settled.
Similarly, in the case of Gilham.v.Browning and Another  1 WLR 682 a defendant was debarred from adducing evidence on his counterclaim, and sought to discontinue proceedings in order to circumvent the debarral, by fresh proceedings. The judge at first instance struck out the notice of discontinuance as an abuse of process. The defendant offered no evidence at the trial of the counterclaim and it was dismissed. The Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s reasoning (and the result). See in particular the discussion of the origins do discontinuance at pages 686 and 691 of May LJ’s judgment. The key to striking out the notice or by way of analogy, granting or refusing permission or applying terms, was the seeking of a collateral advantage.
In the recent case of High Commissioner for Pakistan in the UK.v.National Westminster Bank and others  EWHC 55 (Ch)the High Court set aside Notice of Discontinuance, because the claimant was attempting to obtain a collateral advantage by doing so, the resumption of sovereign immunity. See paragraph 78 of the judgment. See further the discussion at paragraphs 79 to 83 in which the court discussed what terms would have been imposed in order to grant a discontinuance.
It should be noted that due to rule 38.7 a second set of proceedings cannot be started as of right against the same parties: in such a scenario it may well be necessary to lift the cloak of privilege when applying for permission, in order to explain to the court why it would be just to give permission.