UK Supreme Court finds all courts and tribunals have inherent jurisdiction to grant access to documents
The UK Supreme Court has ruled that all courts and tribunals have an inherent jurisdiction to grant access to court documents in a judgment reaffirming the principle of open justice.
Lady Hale, delivering the judgment, urged the bodies responsible for framing the court rules in each part of the UK to “give consideration to the questions of principle and practice raised by this case”.
The judgment was handed down this morning in a dispute between Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd and the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forums UK, in which the Media Lawyers Association intervened.
The case concerned a decision by Master McCloud to allow the Forum to obtain copies of a trial bundle related to a six-week trial in 2017 in which Cape was the defendant and which ended in settlement.
In July 2018, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by Cape, holding that the documents which a non-party could be allowed to access were more limited than the Master had held, but upholding the Forum’s entitlement to copies of a large range of documents.
Refusing an appeal by Cape, Lady Hale said: “The constitutional principle of open justice applies to all courts and tribunals exercising the judicial power of the state. It follows that, unless inconsistent with statute or the rules of court, all courts and tribunals have an inherent jurisdiction to determine what that principle requires in terms of access to documents or other information placed before the court or tribunal in question.
“The extent of any access permitted by the court’s rules is not determinative (save to the extent that they may contain a valid prohibition). It is not correct to talk in terms of limits to the court’s jurisdiction when what is in fact in question is how that jurisdiction should be exercised in the particular case.”
In a post-script, she added: “We would urge the bodies responsible for framing the court rules in each part of the United Kingdom to give consideration to the questions of principle and practice raised by this case.
“About the importance and universality of the principles of open justice there can be no argument. But we are conscious that these issues were raised in unusual circumstances, after the end of the trial, but where clean copies of the documents were still available. We have heard no argument on the extent of any continuing obligation of the parties to co-operate with the court in furthering the open justice principle once the proceedings are over.
“This and the other practical questions touched on above are more suitable for resolution through a consultative process in which all interests are represented than through the prism of an individual case.”