Olswang thwarts MoJ to secure access to judicial review files

Olswang has scored a High Court ruling that will give the public and the media automatic access to court documents in judicial review cases.



Olswang has scored a High Court ruling that will give the public and the media automatic access to court documents in judicial review cases.

The media law firm brought the case on behalf of three national newspapers, including the Financial Times, after the press was initially refused access to court files during the judicial review of the Serious Fraud Office’s decision to abandon its probe into BAE Systems.

The newspapers, which were later allowed access to the court bundles, then took action to establish automatic access to judicial review files.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) opposed the application. It accepted that judicial reviews should be open to public access, but argued that this did not apply to the detailed grounds for contesting the claim.

Mr Justice Collins, however, held that it was anomalous that there should be a principle for one form of documentation and not the other, without any other justification. The judge ruled that such defendant summaries could be used as defences and therefore could be made public.

Olswang media litigation partner Dan Tench said access to defences in private cases is seen as acceptable, making it even more anomalous that this was not the case for judicial reviews.

“It’s healthy to see that the court is proving that it has the ability to scrutinise the Government,” said Tench. “As well as enabling greater access to court documents and fairer monitoring of the Government, it ensures that what is stated by the Government in legal proceedings matches its public statements.”

Tench instructed Andrew Nicol QC and Guy Vassell-Adams of Doughty Street Chambers.