R (On the application of Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court

Reference: [2010] EWHC 3376 (Admin)

Court: Administrative Court

Judge: Sullivan LJ and Silber J

Date of judgment: 21 Dec 2010

Summary: Extradition proceedings – Criminal proceedings - Disclosure to media of documents referred to in open court – Case stated – Judicial review

Download: Download this judgment

Appearances: Adam Wolanski KC (Applicant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for GNL


The US Government applied to extradite two individuals for trial on charges of bribery and corruption. During five days of hearings the parties made reference in open court to numerous documents. Upon the handing down of judgment, Guardian News and Media Ltd applied to inspect those documents. The District Judge refused the application. GNL stated the case for the opinion of the High Court, and applied for an order quashing the District Judge’s decision.


Whether the District Judge was correct in law to refuse the application for inspection.


Held, answering in the affirmative the question whether the court was correct in law to refuse the application for inspection, and dismissing the application for judicial review:

(1) As held in R v Waterfield [1975] 1 WLR 711, the principle of open justice in criminal proceedings does not extend to a right for the public or the media to inspect documents or other exhibits placed before the court;

(2) Article 10 did not assist GNL; neither Independent News and Media Limited and Others v A nor Tarsasag A Szabadsagjogokert v Hungary (Application no 37374/05) qualified the principle in Waterfield;

(3) The Criminal Procedure Rules 2010 provided no right of inspection by third parties to documents referred to in open court. In drafting those rules Parliament is to be taken to have approved the principle in Waterfield;

(4) The Freedom of Information Act 2000 specifically provides that Magistrates Courts, as public authorities, are exempt from requests for disclosure of documents filed with the court for proceedings. It would be strange if the media could circumvent this exemption by reliance on the common law or on Article 10.


In Tarsasag the European Court of Human Rights said that the Strasbourg Court “has more recently advanced towards a broader interpretation of the notion of ‘the freedom to receive information’… and thereby towards the recognition of a right of access to information” by the media. In this decision the High Court rejected the contention that Tarsasag required the court to provide a right of access to documents referred to in a criminal court. It distinguished the decision in Independent News and Media on the grounds that that case concerned media access to court rather than media access to documents referred to in court.