Very public disputes — access to court documents

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When embarking on litigation, it is not uncommon for parties to overlook that documents filed with the court may (and often do) become public. Non-parties are entitled under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR 5.4C[1]) to obtain copies of certain documents on the court file without the court’s permission and without notice being given to the parties.

Non-parties may obtain copies of a statement of case but not documents filed with, or attached to, a statement of case. ‘Statements of case’ include claim forms, particulars of claim, defences, additional claim/counterclaim and replies to a defence: such documents should set out each party’s case in detail. Non-parties may also obtain copies of a judgment or order made in public, whether made at a hearing or without a hearing. However, documents attached to statements of case, witness statements, expert reports or the parties’ correspondence with the court are not generally publicly available and can only be obtained by non-parties if the court gives permission (which gives the parties an opportunity to object).

A non-party may only obtain copies of statements of case when all the defendants have filed an acknowledgment of service or a defence, or the claim has been listed for a hearing, or judgment has been entered on the claim…

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