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When can a non-party obtain documents from previous claims?


The judgment of HHJ Pelling KC in WH Holding Limited v E20 Stadium LLP [2024] EWHC 817 (Comm), 2024 WL 02155931 in the London Circuit Commercial Court (KBD) is a useful reminder of the principles that apply when a non-party wishes to obtain a copy of a court document.

It was confirmed that under CPR r.5.4C(3) a copy of a statement of case can be obtained where there is only one defendant and that defendant has filed an acknowledgement of service or defence.

Under CPR r.5.4C(3) “statement of case” means a claim form, particulars of claim, defence, counterclaim, reply and any further information given in relation to such a document under Part 18.

The general release of the documents accompanying the statement of case cannot be obtained by a non-party otherwise than by an order of the court given that the party has permission pursuant to CPR r.5.4C(2).

Therefore, in personal injury claims a non-party can obtain a copy of the pleadings but not the accompanying expert evidence without making an application to the court.

In this case, the defendant sought to apply a restrictive interpretation to the test of the court which might apply when considering an application for disclosure of documents other than the statement of case. It was argued that if the information was provided, it would be damaging because of its confidential nature.

HHJ Pelling found against the defendant relying upon the clear general rule set out in R (Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrates' Court [2012] EWCA Civ 420, [2013] QB 618 by Toulson LJ that the purpose of the “open justice principle” included facilitating the public to understand and scrutinise the justice system including permitting open access to statements of cases of litigants using the courts.

The judge said that if the default principle was to be departed from it would require clear justification which was fact sensitive. The open justice principle would only be departed from if it could be shown that it was necessary to do so. Even if that were the case any such intervention should be proportionate with “minimum interference”.

Practice Points

  1.  It may often be helpful to obtain statements of case where the litigants have been involved in other court cases.
  2. In those circumstances the non-party is entitled to obtain pleadings but not the accompanying documents. An application can be made any time after the filing of the service or defence.
  3. If the non-party wishes to see accompanying documents such as expert evidence it will be necessary to make an application to the court. The court is likely to be sympathetic to such an application unless it can be shown that the disclosure of a document would be significantly damaging to the administration of justice or the party concerned. Even in those circumstances, the court will only intervene in a proportionate way, for example, by the redaction of parts of a document.
  4. The rules concerning the disclosure of documents to a non-party are often overlooked but can be important. This is especially the case where the parties have been involved in previous multiple claims and where expert evidence has been adduced that will be relevant to the current claim.
Jamie McCabe

Jamie McCabe


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