CPR: Open justice
In a recent application brought jointly by three of the country's leading media organisations, Mr Justice Collins has put to rest a confusing anomaly in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which unjustly restricted the media and public's access to court documents filed in judicial review proceedings. As is widely known, the CPR were amended on 2 October, 2006, to allow the public access to statements of cases filed at court in civil proceedings in circumstances where the court file has not been specifically sealed. Under CPR 5.4C(1), a non-party to proceedings is entitled to access statements of case held in court records without the court's permission. Under CPR 2.3(1), a 'statement of case' is defined as: "A claim form, particulars of claim form where these are not included in a claim form, defence, part 20 claim, or reply to defence." A technical interpretation of CPR 5.4C(1) by the court registry and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had previously restricted public access to the summary and detailed grounds for contesting a claim in a judicial review, while providing access to statements of case filed in private proceedings without application to the court. This came to a head in recent proceedings brought by Corner House Research and Campaign Against Arms Trade concerning the decision of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to drop the investigation of BAE Systems regarding allegations of bribery surrounding arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A freelance journalist sought disclosure under CPR 5.4C(1) of the acknowledgement of service and summary grounds for resistance to the claim filed by the SFO, but was refused by the court office on the ground that an 'acknowledgment of service' and 'summary grounds for contesting the claim' were not specifically defined as a 'statement of case' in CPR 2.3(1).
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