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UK: Proposed New Rule Would Radically Expand Public Access To Court Documents

April 08, 2024 posted by Steve Brownstein

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee is consulting on a revised rule 5.4C which, as currently drafted, would lead to parties' witness statements, expert reports and skeleton arguments becoming public at a much earlier stage of proceedings than is currently the case. While it is clearly important that the press and the public should have appropriate access to court documents, in accordance with the principle of open justice, it is not clear that the current proposals strike the right balance.
At the moment, the only documents non-parties are able to obtain automatically from the court file under CPR 5.4C, without the court's permission, are the statements of case (eg claim form, particulars of claim and defence) and any judgments or orders made in public (whether at a hearing or otherwise). The rules also separately provide that witness statements are open to inspection during trial, once the witness has been called to give evidence, so in practice these are often provided by the parties on request. Skeleton arguments are also often provided at trial, voluntarily, as the Commercial Court Guide encourages.
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