Times wins landmark ruling on court documents access

The Telegraph’s story on Kerry Cox’s court battle against ex-fiancé Lawrence Jones. The Times has won access to documents in the case

An interim High Court ruling following a legal challenge by The Times should make it easier for journalists to access court documents.

The paper took action when it encountered difficulties in viewing evidence in the high-profile legal battle between lawyers Lawrence Jones and Kerry Cox, following the break-up of their relationship.

The views expressed by the judge in the case, Mr Justice Mann, could be used by the media in future court cases where access to court documents is an issue.

The media-law issues raised by The Times focused on two points – the availability of written statements of evidence from chief of witnesses and access to the original claim forms or writs in the case.

Witnesses no longer give evidence from the witness box. Instead, their statement is presented to the courts, the witness verifies the contents are accurate and they are then crossexamined, without their accounts being given a public airing. So, the only way the public or media in court can know what the statement says is if they have access to it.

Civil Procedure Rules state that such statements should be open to inspection, though anyone can apply to block inspection on the basis of the interests of justice; that it would not be in the public interest; the sensitive medical nature of the evidence concerned; the nature of confidential information; or the need to protect the interests of a child or patient.

Having examined the statements to which The Times sought access, the judge ruled that, subject to some matters in them being altered to protect people named, they should be made available.

“The over-arching consideration is the principle that justice must be done publicly,” he said. However, he continued, in ordering the release of the statements, “I think the interests of justice in this case do justify and require some limited, albeit relatively small, restrictions on the right of inspection.”

Turning to the question of the availability of writs issued in the case and amendments to them, the judge said the Civil Procedure Rules laid down that anyone was entitled to pay a fee during office hours and search for, inspect and take a copy of a claim form (writ) that has been serviced; any judgment or order given or made in public; or any other document if the court gives permission.

On that basis he said: “I permit inspection of the particulars of a claim and the amended defence and counterclaim, but no other statements of the case.”

By Roger Pearson

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