Lord Irvine pleges action on county court security

THE LORD Chancellor, Lord Irvine has promised to act on calls by The Lawyer for county court summonses to be made freely available to the public.

The move follows a successful bid by four barristers – Paul Ozin, Garrett Byrne, Brendan Finucane and Nicola Langridge – to block an application by The Lawyer for access to a summons which was issued against them by their former clerk.

High Court writs are available to the public, but county court judges can refuse access to summonses, the county court equivalent of writs.

In July, The Lawyer wrote to the Lord Chancellor calling on him to take advantage of his current project to unify the court rules to bring the county court regulations regarding public access to court documents in line with the High Court.

In his reply, Lord Irvine says: “I understand your concern about the inconsistencies between the rules of the Supreme Court and the county court rules over the extent to which people who are not parties to a case can have access to court documents.

“My officials are actively considering how this area of the rules should be changed.”

The Lawyer wrote to Lord Irvine after district judge Martin Samuels refused our application to see Queen Elizabeth Building senior clerk Michael Price's summons against Ozin, Byrne, Finucane, all now of 23 Essex Street, and Langridge, of Hardwicke Building. He had accused the four of breach of contract.

During the hearing on 26 June, David Sherborne, counsel for The Lawyer, said it was easier to get hold of Princess Diana's will than to get hold of the summons in the case.

He said the principle of open justice was a “cornerstone of English law” and was reinforced by 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 court as a court of secrecy,” he said. But Judge Samuels said the case had “nothing to do with human rights, apart from the fact there is a right to privacy”.

The four barristers instructed Schilling & Lom and Partners to oppose the application. They were represented in court by Nicholas Purnell QC, a colleague of Ozin, Byrne and Finucane at 23 Essex Street, who acted on a pro bono basis.

They settled their case with Price on the eve of the scheduled 13-day trial.