Alex Nartmann argues for public High Court judgments

I was recently asked to assist a foreign lawyer conducting due diligence checks prior to the acquisition of an English company. He asked where he could find out whether any court judgments had been entered against the acquisition target. I suggested he apply to the Registry of County Court Judgments (CCJs), run by Registry Trust on a non-profit basis, explaining there was no equivalent register for High Court judgments.

It has always struck me as incongruous that the public has access to CCJ information yet are unable to obtain information on larger High Court judgments. If there is a benefit in maintaining a register of CCJs then it is surely of greater benefit to make available the same information for High Court judgments.

This inconsistency is based on historical accident. The registry of CCJs is a product of l9th century manufacturer's demands for protection against non-payment. The value of the goods they supplied fell within the jurisdiction of the County rather than High Court, leading to a register of CCJs only.

The provision of credit is the lifeblood of today's economy and is of critical importance to high street retailers and big manufacturers alike. Non-payment leads to litigation, the registration of a CCJ and the refusal of credit by other suppliers. Similar behaviour by a large company will lead to High Court litigation and a judgment known only to the plaintiff, leaving the "professional debtor" company free to repeat its antics with subsequent creditors.

Numerous submissions requesting the creation of a public register of High Court judgments have been made to the Lord Chancellor's Department by trade associations. Paul Mudge, Registry Trust chief executive, says he is keen to offer this service, but is precluded from doing so by the LCD's view that High Court judgments are not currently "in the public domain". The LCD has acknowledged the reasons for creating such a Register of High Court Judgments but states that statutory clarification of the public status of High Court judgment information is required. Perhaps the Civil Litigation Bill to enact the Woolf reforms will offer this opportunity.

Alex Nartmann is an associate at Dibb Lupton Broomhead's London office.