Law Society gagging order stops journalists' access to court documents

The Law Society has won an unprecedented gagging order stopping all courts in the UK from releasing information under a new rule.

High Court judge Mr Justice Irwin granted the Law Society, the professional body of solicitors, an injunction against court officer Michael Parker and HM Courts Service at 4pm on Friday afternoon. The injunction bans court offices in the UK releasing information under a new rule which should have taken effect from 2 October, allowing people to inspect court documents in civil cases.

This is thought to be the first time that courts throughout the UK have been gagged. Although it is common for legal challenges, it is unheard of for the Law Society to sue the courts.

The two top procedural judges at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Chief Chancery Master and the Senior Master, had decided that the rule should be applied retrospectively, allowing people not involved in the cases to get hold of documents giving details.

The Chief Chancery Master, Master Winegarten, and the Senior Master, Master Turner, had decided that when Parliament approved the new rule without making any transitional arrangements, this meant the rule should apply to old cases.

People wanting to inspect documents, including particulars of claim and defences, would have been allowed to do so without needing special permission from a judge. But as a result of the injunction, this will not now happen. A full hearing of the case is set for Thursday 5 October when the court will consider the Law Society's application in full.

For the past year, it has not been possible to obtain particulars of claim without a judge's permission, although previously these had been routinely available for many years. The new rule which should have applied from 2 October would have made it possible for people to inspect cases which were previously thought to be buried in dusty corridors and it is thought solicitors feared their clients' secrets might be uncovered. The injunction does not affect new cases.

International is considering whether to join the action against the Court
Service and to challenge the injunction at the hearing on Thursday.

Fleet Street Lawyers Association is also expected to urgently consider whether
to become involved the issue as a matter of public importance.


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