Get in Touch Menu

Business secrets up for grabs

12 March 2007

Six months ago, it became easier for the public to obtain court documents. Now, if a dispute involves issues you’d rather keep confidential you may need to look at ways of resolving matters out of the courts. Associate Paul Gordon reports.

A change in the court rules has given the public much greater access to documents filed in the course of court proceedings. The move is intended to encourage openness in the court system and generate public confidence in judicial decision-making. The result is that anyone can now request copies of more of the documents filed since October last year.

In practice, this means a sharp-witted competitor or an enterprising journalist may at this moment be asking to see court papers in the hope of uncovering commercially useful or scandalous information.

Many commercial disputes involve the disclosure of information that the parties would prefer to keep private. Details about pricing, products, contracts, customers, financial standing or boardroom battles are just a few examples, any of which could be potentially harmful in one way or another.

Previously, it was generally only possible to obtain limited and very basic information about a claim unless you were a party to a case: now there is access to all statements of case filed at court since October 2006. There is provision for litigants to ask the court to restrict access to non-parties but is too early to know what this means as there is little guidance as to when the courts would agree to this restriction.

Paul Gordon says: “Where confidentiality is a key objective, businesses may well prefer to opt for alternative ways of resolving disputes, such as arbitration or mediation.

“Arbitration hearings, for example, are conducted in private, awards are confidential and members of the public have no right to access documents filed during the arbitration proceedings.

“With some surveys reporting that over 80 per cent of disputes referred to mediation result in a settlement it is no surprise that more and more business are choosing to mediate. Specific confidentiality clauses can be included in settlement agreements, which, again, may enhance its appeal as a preferred option.

“This change to the rules will certainly act as a further, and persuasive, reason to consider these alternative forums which offer a higher degree of confidentiality”.

Associate Paul Gordon, a specialist in dispute resolution, has acted for clients such as American Express, PizzaExpress and a number of major financial loan companies.


Disclaimer: All legal information is correct at the time of publication but please be aware that laws may change over time. This article contains general legal information but should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please seek professional legal advice about your specific situation - contact us; we’d be delighted to help.
Paul Gordon LLB
View profile
Related services
Share this article
Resources to help

Related articles

Section 8: What are the differences between mandatory grounds & discretionary grounds?

Litigation & dispute resolution

In a new series – ‘What does the law say?’ – our property litigation specialists discuss the key parts of residential possession law landlords and tenants should be aware of.…

Nick Southwell BA (Hons)

The King’s speech 2023: Changes to the property sector

Litigation & dispute resolution

In November 2023, HM King Charles delivered the King’s speech which set out the government’s planned legislative programme for the coming year. Our litigation specialists summarise the proposed bills that…

Simon Arneaud LLB (Hons)
Senior associate, solicitor

Can’t sell your property due to the ground rent? Is your service charge fee too high?

Litigation & dispute resolution

The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 came into force in June 2022 to ensure ground rent does not exceed one peppercorn per year. This only applies to new leases…

Nick Southwell BA (Hons)
Contact us