Public and private hearings
Public and private hearings

The following Dispute Resolution guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Public and private hearings
  • The general rule of open justice
  • Which hearings must be held in private?
  • Applying for a matter to be heard in private
  • How will the court exercise its discretion to order a hearing to be heard in private?
  • Excluding members of the public from trial/hearings
  • Protecting confidential information
  • Closed hearings
  • Concurrent civil and criminal proceedings
  • Protecting the identity of a party or a witness
  • more

Note: this Practice Note should be read in conjunction with Practice Notes:

  1. Disclosure—collateral use of documents—which deals with CPR 31.22(1)(a) permitting the subsequent use of documents read or referred to in public hearings

  2. Use of confidential information in civil proceedings—which deals with the protection of confidential information and anonymisation to protect the identity of a party or witness

The general rule of open justice

The general rule, and fundamental principle of common law, is that open justice requires public hearings. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Al Rawi v The Security Service. It went on to say that to have a private hearing requires the court to depart from the general rule and the question to that departure must be treated as one of principle, and as turning, not on convenience, but on necessity. As the Supreme Court identified in A v BBC, the courts have an inherent jurisdiction to determine how the principle of open justice should be applied.

Following a public consultation held in 2018 to clarify the principle of open justice, the introduction of SI 2019/342 (see News Analysis: CPR changes—6 April 2019) amended CPR 39 to confirm that a hearing may not be held in private, irrespective of the parties’ consent, unless and to the extent that the court decides that it must be