‘Open justice’ wins as DCA rewrites claim access rules

Media lawyers have forced the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) into a U-turn over the introduction of a controversial rule that restricted the public’s access to court documents.

A new rule, which comes into effect today (2 October), gives the media and members of the public access to documents such as pleadings and defence of a claim, which were previously not freely available.

Alastair Brett, general counsel at The Times, said: “It’s a very practical decision by the rules committee. It’s a victory not so much for the media, but for open justice.”

In October 2005 the DCA revised Civil Procedure Rule 5.4 to make it clear that the public was not allowed to get hold of particulars of claim, documents attached to the claim form and some names and addresses of claimants and defendants.

A consortium of publishers, including Associated Newspapers, Independent News and Media, News International and Trinity Mirror, campaigned against the rule, prompting the rules committee to re-examine the issue.

Associated Newspapers legal director Harvey Kass said: “It’s an increasingly rare example of respect for open justice.”