London solicitors raise concerns over proposed court document access changes

The group warned against risks to confidentiality and legal process integrity

London solicitors raise concerns over proposed court document access changes

The London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) has expressed significant concerns regarding proposed changes to court document access for non-parties.

This response comes amid the Civil Procedure Rule Committee's (CPRC) consultation on the new draft of CPR 5.4C, which aims to broaden access to documents like skeleton arguments, witness statements, and expert reports.

In its detailed response to the CPRC, the LSLA affirmed its commitment to the principle of open justice, which is deemed crucial for holding the legal system accountable and enhancing public understanding of legal decisions. However, it warned that the proposed amendments to CPR 5.4C could complicate the legal process and have unintended negative consequences.

The LSLA outlined several specific concerns regarding the draft amendments:

  • Confidentiality: The association stressed that witness and expert evidence often contain confidential information, which might not be suitable for broader public access.
  • Timing and Access: The LSLA questioned the ambiguity in the draft regarding when non-parties can access documents, potentially leading to premature dissemination of sensitive information.
  • Collateral Use: There is a risk that non-parties could misuse the documents in other legal proceedings, a situation that current provisions do not sufficiently address.
  • Process and Practicality: The association highlighted the logistical challenges of providing non-parties access to documents not routinely held by the court.
  • Cost Implications: The proposed changes do not address who will bear the costs of document access, especially if redactions are necessary.

The LSLA supported making skeleton arguments available to non-parties at hearings but argues that extending this access to witness statements and expert reports requires more thorough consideration. The association believed that without careful regulation, the proposed changes could lead parties to prefer arbitration over court proceedings due to its more stringent confidentiality protections, undermining the goals of open justice the amendments aim to serve.

Moreover, the LSLA cautioned that these changes could impact London's status as a global center for dispute resolution, as international clients might seek jurisdictions with more protective measures for sensitive information.

Ultimately, the LSLA said in a statement, “We are of the view that much more consideration needs to be given to the rationale, practical challenges and direct implications of a prescribed arrangement permitting access to witness evidence  and expert evidence as a matter of course.”

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