At a recent interim hearing in the high profile case between Jeffrey Blue and Mike Ashley, who runs the Sports Direct chain, the High Court refused to give Times Newspapers Limited permission to access witness statements prepared for use at the trial.
The Times wanted access to nine documents, including the trial witness statements, in advance of the trial. These witness statements had been lodged at court prior to a hearing in April in relation to expert evidence and had been referred to at that hearing.
The court decided that while it had the power to direct that The Times be given access to the statements, there were good reasons why the court should not generally give a non-party access to trial witness statements before the witnesses had given evidence and been cross-examined.
The court found that advance notice of witness evidence is for the benefit of the opposing parties, not the public.
Furthermore, if the statements were made available to the public prior to the trial that would not promote the fair and accurate reporting of the proceedings. The court therefore refused The Times permission to access the statements.
If The Times had sought access to the witness statements to understand better the arguments which had been made at the April hearing, rather than to report on the evidence to be given at the trial, as appeared to be the case here, the position may well have been different.