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Can witness statements be made public prior to trial?

5 July 2017

In Jeffrey Ross Blue (Claimant) v Michael James Wallace Ashley (Defendant) & Times Newspapers LTD (Applicant) [2017] EWHC 1553 (Comm) the Court considered whether witness statements prepared for trial and included in an interim hearing bundle could be made available to the public in advance.

The applicant submitted that the parties’ witness statements had been referred to at the earlier hearing so should be available for inspection.

The court considered the open justice principle and found that there was no basis for enabling the witness statements to be made available to the public. The court was of the opinion that fair and accurate reporting of proceedings was promoted if a witness statement was put into the public domain when it became evidence and this was once a witness had been called to give the oral evidence in court. The advance notice of a witness statement was provided for the benefit of the opposing parties and not for the public.

This case demonstrates that the courts generally will not make witness statements prepared for use at a trial publicly available before the witness gives evidence. A witness statement will not become evidence until the witness is called to give oral evidence at trial. Until such time, it is merely a statement of the evidence the witness might give. Parties should not assume that a witness statement will be the complete evidence that a witness is going to give until they have completed their oral evidence at trial. 

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Mia Plume

Mia Plume

Associate (Chartered Legal Executive)

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