Overriding importance of open justice

Against a factual background involving international intrigue, Saudi royalty and corporate in-fighting, the Court of Appeal confirms that the principle of open justice is paramount to the administration of justice in the courts of England and Wales.

The case of Global Torch v Apex concerned two rival corporate shareholders in a company called Fi Call Limited (the company). Members of the Saudi royal family were involved with one of the shareholders (Global) and also with the company. In December 2011 petitions were presented, firstly by Global to its rival (Apex) and secondly by Apex to Global and to members of the Saudi royal family and their advisers, each alleging serious misconduct on the part of the other, both generally in relation to the company and specifically in connection with various international transactions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the case attracted significant media interest and the Guardian newspaper and the Financial Times applied, as interested parties, for copies of court documents. Global argued that the respective allegations of misconduct left the shareholders potentially vulnerable to significant reputational damage and applied for hearings to be held in private, on the grounds that publicity would defeat the object of the hearings and that privacy was necessary in the interests of justice.

Upholding the decision of the judge in the Companies Court, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed Global’s request that hearings be conducted in private. The court acknowledged that the law needs to offer a degree of protection so that the full application of the open justice principle does not expose a victim to the very detriment which his cause of action is designed to prevent (akin to a CPR 39.2 (3) (a) scenario), but that was not the case here. The case in question was really concerned with potential reputational damage to the parties…

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