Inspection of Documents

July 20th, 2016

 The CPR provide that a party may inspect a document mentioned in a witness statement. This provision has been considered by the Court of Appeal in Abacha v National Crime Agency (2016) EWCA Civ 760.  Gross LJ, with whom Hamblen LJ and Sir Colin Rimer agreed, adopted the following analysis from paragraph 28:-

  1. The mere fact that a document is “mentioned” in one of the documents specified in CPR r. 31.14(1) does not automatically and without more entitle the other party to inspect it. The Court retains a discretionary jurisdiction to refuse inspection.
  2. The general rule is clear. Ordinarily, if under CPR r. 31.14(1) a document is “mentioned”, inter alia, in a witness statement, the other party has a right to inspect it. In CPR terminology, CPR r. 31.14 reflects basic fairness and principle in an adversarial system; in accordance with the overriding objective, the parties are to be on an equal footing.
  3. Thirdly, the right to inspect under CPR r. 31.14 is not, however, unqualified; it is instead subject to CPR rules based limits, which may be invoked by the party resisting inspection – the burden resting on that party to justify displacing the general rule. Thus, “proportionality” is part of the overriding objective CPR r.1.1(2)(c) and, in an appropriate case, it would be open to a party to oppose inspection on the ground that it would be “disproportionate to the issues in the case”: CPR r.31(3)(2). In determining any such issue of proportionality, a Court would very likely have regard to whether inspection of the documents was necessary for the fair disposal of the application or action. So too, the mere mention of a privileged document in (for example) a statement of case may not of itself lead to a loss of the privilege; CPR r.31.14 is to be read with and subject to CPR r.31.19(3) and (5).
  4. There is nothing to suggest that the RSC approach to confidentiality has changed under the CPR. Accordingly, while disclosure and inspection cannot be refused by reason of the confidentiality of the documents in question alone, confidentiality (where it is asserted) is a relevant factor to be taken into account by the Court in determining whether or not to order inspection. The Court’s task is to strike a just balance between the competing interests involved – those of the party asserting an entitlement to inspect the documents and those of the party claiming confidentiality in the documents. In striking that balance in the exercise of its discretion, the Court may properly have regard to the question of whether inspection of the documents is necessary for disposing fairly of the proceedings in question.
  5. There is some free-standing “necessity” test which needs to be satisfied before permitting inspection where CPR r.31.14 is otherwise satisfied. In this regard, the CPR differ from the previous regime contained in RSC O.24, though, as already demonstrated, the question of whether inspection is “necessary to dispose fairly” of the application or case is not rendered irrelevant – and may well arise in the context of proportionality or that of confidentiality. On this analysis “necessity” is or may be (depending on the facts) a relevant factor in striking the just balance; it is not a free-standing hurdle to be considered and surmounted in isolation before inspection may be permitted.

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