No retrospective public access to court documents

Law Society secures change to CPR amendments

The Civil Procedure Rules Committee has confirmed that new rule CPR 5.4C will be amended to give non-parties access to statements of case filed at court by parties to litigation only on or after 2nd October 2006.


The change will come into force on 18th December 2006. Until then, an interim declaration obtained by the Law Society in its judicial review proceedings against the Department of Constitutional Affairs will stay in place, preventing any retrospective effect in the new public access provisions. The proceedings themselves have been withdrawn, on terms that the DCA pays the Law Society’s costs.


The Law Society acted after concerns were raised that the new rules introduced on 2nd October 2006 would jeopardize the privacy of litigants who had previously filed statements of case at court in the expectation that they would remain confidential. The media were given permission to join the action as interested parties, since it was expected that journalists would seek to take advantage of any provision giving retrospective access to court documents.


Whilst the Law Society has achieved its objectives in protecting documents filed prior to 2nd October 2006, the new rules are unaffected in their application to statements of case filed after that date. This represents a significant change in the default position that applies to the availability of documents from court records going forward. Now, unless a party filing a statement of case obtains a court order to the effect that it must not be released to the public, that party should expect the entirety of its written pleaded case to be made available to any non-party on a request made to the court office.


5RB‘s Jonathan Barnes was junior counsel for the Law Society instructed by Schillings.