The presumption in Guernsey is that justice must be done in
public. Accordingly, unless there is some exceptional factor in any
particular case which means the interests of justice can only be
served by conducting proceedings in private, all civil hearings are
open to the public and the press. It follows that any member of the
public or the press is in principle entitled to ask to inspect
copies of documents lodged at court in the course of the
Matters heard in private
The court's power to order cases, or parts of cases, to
proceed in private is an aspect of its inherent jurisdiction and is
not circumscribed by any particular law, rule of procedure or
authority. In a number of categories of case, it is relatively
common for hearings to be conducted in private and for documents to
be protected from public view. Cases involving the interests of
children, certain trusts cases, or matters where the wider public
interest or the proper administration of justice is engaged, may
fall to be dealt with in this way.
A party seeking privacy must satisfy the judge that the
particular circumstances of the case are exceptional, so as to
justify a departure from the general principle of open justice. In
the absence of definitive local authority, case law from Jersey and
England is likely to be persuasive. According to those
authorities, potential embarrassment or inconvenience to the
parties are not of themselves sufficiently exceptional features to
justify a case being heard in private.
However, the Guernsey courts have not been willing to define
precisely what types of case may be heard in private and, if a
litigant wishes proceedings to be conducted in private and for the
court file to be sealed, the burden is upon them to satisfy the
judge that an order of that nature is appropriate. The courts do
adopt a flexible approach to balance the overarching primacy of the
principle of open justice against the desire to reasonably protect
sensitive confidential information (both for individuals and
companies). It is not uncommon for a case to be heard in public but
for the court file and evidence to be sealed in order to protect
What documents can be obtained by third parties?
Generally speaking, whenever proceedings are in public, third
parties can obtain a copy of any pleading filed in the litigation,
upon request and payment of a modest fee. Such documents will
include the cause, defences, any counterclaim and any application
In relation to affidavit evidence, the practice is that if
copies are requested the matter will be referred to a judge. The
judge will decide whether such evidence should be released and will
often direct the Greffe, or court office, to contact the Advocates
for each party to the case in order to seek their views, before a
decision is made.
Transcripts of court proceedings
All Royal Court proceedings are recorded. However, to minimise
the risk of misuse, there is no longer a general right to listen to
or receive copies of recordings from the Court, irrespective of
whether the request is made on behalf of a party or non-party to
Applications can be made to the Deputy Greffier to listen to the
audio recording, but only during the course of a hearing and for
the limited purpose of ensuring that an accurate note has been
taken. Permission to listen to a recording may in exceptional cases
be granted after an official transcript has been obtained (for
example, for the purposes of an appeal), including where there is
cogent evidence that the transcript may have been wrongly
Transcripts can be ordered from the Court reporters who, upon
payment of a prescribed fee, will then make arrangements to produce
the transcripts either locally or from approved transcribers
elsewhere. Where the relevant hearing was held in private,
transcripts may only be supplied with the Court's express
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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In our Offshore Lawyers' Liability article in April 2014, we noted the growth of professional liability claims and allegations of professional misconduct against lawyers and law firms in offshore jurisdictions.
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