A third party law firm, Strickland Legal, sought disclosure of statements of case, applications for directions and documents relating to “experiments” from the court file of a discontinued case relating to the validity of certain patents. Strickland was granted permission to obtain copies from the court file as the firm was commercially active in the field in which the original case was concerned and therefore had a legitimate interest in seeing the documents.

Although Strickland was granted permission to see the grounds on which the patents had been attacked, a number of the documents in question were publicly available through the UK Intellectual Property Office. The court highlighted that the CPR procedure for obtaining documents from the court file should not generally be used to obtain copies of documents which are otherwise available through other public sources.

Strickland was permitted to take copies of witness statements included in the application for directions which had a bearing on the validity of the patent in question, but there was no basis for it to obtain any of the publicly available material exhibited to those statements.

The court gave guidance on how the principle of open justice (which lies behind CPR 5.4C), will influence the court’s decision on whether to grant third parties access to documents held in court records. The principle of open justice is a powerful reason for allowing access to documents, where the purpose of access is to monitor that justice was done. The requirement to seek permission is a safety valve to allow access to documents which should in all the circumstances be provided.

Where the purpose of seeking the documents is not to monitor that justice was done, but the documents requested have been read by the court as part of the decision-making process, then the court should lean in favour of disclosure if a legitimate interest can still be shown for obtaining the documents.3

In instances where the principle of open justice is not engaged at all, such as where documents have been filed but not read, the court should only give access where there are strong grounds for thinking that it is necessary in the interests of justice to do so.