South Carolina outlaws confidential settlements

South Carolina's federal judges have done away with confidential legal settlements in a move that is expected to be adopted by state courts

It is the first step of its kind and applies to settlements in a vast range of cases, from product liability to child molestation litigation.

The rule, which South Carolina's chief justice said will be adopted by other US courts, applies only to state-approved settlements, which will now be publicised in full. The rule does not apply to cases settled out of court.

Attorney William Kester, who wrote to the court in support of the change, said: “There's no justice when it's hidden from our citizens.”

There are a raft of opponents, including the state's largest law firm and a defence attorneys' group. They argue that the rule could clog the courts with cases that could be settled out of court.

However, the new rule will not apply to cases that reveal sensitive information, such as the name of an abuse victim or a person's medical records. Also, those settlements that are already sealed will remain confidential.