Court of Appeal upholds non-party’s right to access to copies of trial documents

In Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring (Asbestos Victims Support Group) [2018] EWCA Civ 1795 the Court of Appeal had to determine whether a non-party should be entitled to copies of the entire trial bundle in respect of a 6 week trial which proceeded in January 2017 before Picken J and which settled before judgment.

Robert Weir QC and Jonathan Butters represented the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK who had sought copies of trial documents on the basis that they were understood to shed light on the asbestos industry’s knowledge of the dangers of asbestos and its influence over government standards.

Master McCloud had earlier permitted the Forum to obtain copies of the trial bundle on the basis of open justice and the fact that the Forum had a legitimate interest in bringing the application.

Although Hamblen LJ, giving the lead judgment in the Court of Appeal, overturned the decision to allow the Forum a copy of the entire trial bundle, he nevertheless upheld its entitlement to copies of a large range of key documents.  It was held that a non-party is entitled under the Court’s inherent jurisdiction to copies of all documents read by the trial judge, or which he was invited to read or to which access was necessary to meet the needs of open justice.

This appeal raises important questions about (i) the powers of the court under the CPR and its inherent jurisdiction to permit access to documents by non-parties; (ii) the way in which the court's discretion should be exercised where an application is within its powers; and (iii) the proper balance to be struck between the application of the principle of open justice and policy considerations concerning the proper and efficient administration of justice.

Rob Weir QC and Jonathan Butters were instructed by Harminder Bains of Leigh Day.

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