Chan U Seek v Alvis Vehicles Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 3092 (Ch);  1 WLR 2965;  3 All ER 155;  EMLR 435; The Times 14 Dec 2004
Court: Chancery Division
Judge: Park J
Date of judgment: 8 Dec 2004
Summary: Open Justice - Access to Court Documents - Civil Procedure - Disclosure of documents to a non-party - CPR Rule 5.4(5)
The parties were involved in a trial which settled after 7 days. In accordance with modern practice in non-jury cases, evidence in chief was read in advance by the Judge. After the case had settled, The Guardian asked the parties for copies of various court documents, including the statements of case and various witness statements which were on the court file and in the public domain. They refused. The newspaper applied for an order, and argued that under CPR r.5.4(5)(b) it was entitled to obtain copies of the documents from the records of the court. The Defendant argued that permission could not be given under the rules because only the ‘court’ that heard the trial could make an order and that court ceased to exist, the matter having settled.
Whether a non-party was entitled to an order that documents on the court file be disclosed under CPR 32.13(1), the revised CPR 5.4(5)(b) or under the court’s inherent jurisdiction.
Allowing the application and ordering that the documents should be provided,
(1) The trial had been held in the High Court, which continued to exist and had the jurisdiction to grant permission under CPR r.5.4(5). The court has a discretion to permit non-parties to obtain copies from the records of the court.
(2) Inspection of a witness statement under CPR 32.13(1) may only be permitted during the course of a trial and not thereafter.
(3) Where the rules are specific about the classes of document that can be disclosed but do not apply in a particular case, the court is unlikely to invoke its inherent jurisdiction.
Access to Court documents is an important corollary to the principle of open justice. When so much of civil litigation is conducted relying on documents (Statements of Case, Appeal Notices, Witness Statements, Skeleton arguments etc.) it is important for the media to be afforded proper access to such documents. The Judge’s comments on the exercise of his discretion under CPR 5.4(5)(b) will be useful to journalists. The general position is that courts favour the disclosure of materials, and it makes no difference that those documents are read privately by a Judge rather than read out. Unsusbstantiated assertions from the parties that they will be damaged ought not to prevail. It was immaterial that a newspaper might be investigating for some other story rather than engaged in reporting the case. Newspapers seeking disclosure of documents from an old, stale matter would be looked at less favourably.