Irvine urged to end court secrecy

THE LAWYER has called on the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine to change the county court rules after a judge blocked an application to release a clerk's summons against three barristers claiming the case had “nothing to do with human rights”.

The Lawyer applied for access to the summons after The Mayor's City of London County Court blocked requests to see it. It gives details of a breach of contract action by Michael Price, senior clerk at Queen Elizabeth Building, headed by Lindsay Burn, against former tenants Paul Ozyn, Garrett Byrne and Brendan Finucane and a pupil.

During the hearing on 26 June David Sherborne, counsel for The Lawyer, told District Judge Martin Samuels it was easier to get hold of the will of Princess Diana than it was to get hold of the summons in this case. He said summonses should be freely available to the public, like writs, their High Court equivalent.

He added that the principle of open justice was a “cornerstone of English law” and was reinforced by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “There is no reason people should be able to go to the county court to avoid the public gaze. That would set up the county court as a court of secrecy,” he said.

Dismissing the action, Judge Samuels said: “This case has nothing to do with human rights, apart from the fact there is a right to privacy.”

The Lawyer has written to Lord Irvine calling on him to bring county court rules in line with those of the High Court.

Rupert Grey, of Crockers Oswald Hickson, which acted for The Lawyer, said: “The right of privacy has to be balanced against the public interest and if the High Court rules give the public a right of access there is no logic in the county court denying it.”