Aug 4, 2016

Inspection of Documents Referred to in a Witness Statement or Statement of Case

Background

In a dispute between Blue Holdings PTE Ltd & another v National Crime Agency (NCA), Blue Holdings applied for an order for disclosure of letters of request for mutual legal assistance sent by the United States of America to the United Kingdom.  These were referred to in a witness statement served by the NCA.  The NCA argued that Blue Holdings did not make out any basis for an entitlement to disclosure, in particular, because confidentiality attaches to inter-State communications.

Law

The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) 31.14 and 31.15 state that a party has the right to inspect a document disclosed in a witness statement and that in order to do so the party must give written notice of his desire to inspect the document and that the party who disclosed the document must allow inspection within 7 days of the request.

Initial Decision

The judge refused the request for inspection holding that "The question is whether inspection is necessary for the fair disposal of the action."

Appeal

Blue Holdings appealed the decision and on 21 June 2016, the Court of Appeal confirmed it agreed with High Court Judge and refused the request for inspection.

The principal issues as to the success/failure of the appeal were as follows:

Does CPR r. 31.14 apply?
Assuming the answer to Issue I is "yes", what is the true analysis of the Appellants' right to inspect the Request?
What balance ought to be struck between the Appellants' right to inspect the Request and the confidentiality of state to state communications?
If the Judge's decision is properly characterised as a discretionary decision, a fortiori, a discretionary case management decision, should this Court intervene?

Having considered the above, the Court felt that in this case it should not intervene and that disclosure of the documents should not be ordered.  The decision confirms that there is no automatic right to inspect a disclosed document and the Court will need to exercise discretion and find a balance between the interests of the parties.

Posted by: in: Case Law, Civil Procedure, News

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