Non-Party Access to Court Documents and the Open Justice Principle: The UK Supreme Court Judgment in Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring

Ana Koprivica Harvey

MPILux Working Paper 5 (2019)

Abstract: On the 29th July 2019, the UK Supreme Court rendered a unanimous, eagerly awaited, judgement in the case of Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring. Broadly speaking, the case concerned the scope and operation of the constitutional principle of open justice. More precisely, the questions before the Court were how much of the written material placed before a court in a civil action should be accessible to persons other than the parties to the proceedings, and how such access should be facilitated. The judgment is significant for at least two reasons. On the one hand, it provides an extensive analysis of the court’s power to allow third parties access to court documents under the constitutional principle of open justice. In so doing, the judgment revisits the contents of the open justice principle and its application in the context of modern, predominantly written-based, civil proceedings. On the other, the judgment provides certain guidance on the circumstances in which a third party may obtain access to court documents and, to some extent, clarifies the type of documents that may in principle be obtained. As a result, the judgment largely opens third party access to the court files that have been under the exclusive purview of the court and the parties.

Keywords: Non-party access to documents, open justice, open court, court files, court documents, UK Supreme Court, privatisation of civil justice