Are hearings held in public and are documents filed at court available to the public? Are there any exceptions?

Litigation (2nd edition)

Austria Small Flag Austria

Court files and documents are only available to the parties of a proceeding and not to the public. Court hearings are in general open to the public. However, the public may be excluded from a hearing for certain reasons, e.g. in order to protect privacy or business secrets.

The Austrian Constitutional Court established in its case law the right to access the judgements rendered by the Austrian Supreme Court because of its importance for remedies. Those judgements (and sometimes judgements by the lower courts as well) are anonymised and published on the website of the Austrian legal information database (RIS) on www.ris.bka.gv.at.

Japan Small Flag Japan

In principle, court hearings must be held in public (with some exceptions including preparatory hearings which are not open to the public). In addition, anyone may view documents filed at court, and a person who can show interest in the case may get copies of those documents (CCP, Article 91(1)). However, the court, at the petition of a party to a case and if it finds grounds to grant the petition, may order limited public access to certain portions of the case documents that include private information or business secrets (Id., Article 92).

Monaco Small Flag Monaco

Generally, hearings are held in public, unless the Court decides otherwise in order to protect personal dignity or public morality.

As regards to documents, no access is permitted to any party other than those involved in the case.

China Small Flag China

The court hearing in China shall be held in public, except where state secrets, personal privacy is involved or otherwise stipulated by law. For a case which involves commercial secrets, a litigant may apply for a hearing in camera and it is within the court’s discretion to decide whether to grant the application.

There is no access for general public to acquire the documents filed at court. However, according to Article 156 of the CPL, the public can inspect judgments and rulings which have come into effect, except where the contents involve state secrets, commercial secrets or personal privacy. The judgements and rulings of all courts are published on a website designated by the Supreme People’s Court of China.

Romania Small Flag Romania

As a rule, according to the Civil Procedure Code, all court proceedings are public. However, the law also provides several exceptions. The judge, either ex officio or at the request of the parties, in case the morality, public order, privacy or justice interests impose it, may declare the hearings confidential.

Parties and their representatives have unrestricted access to the case file. Altogether, with the prior approval of the court, the documents contained in the court files can also be accessed by any interested person or journalists, on condition that they justify an interest in accessing the information.

Cyprus Small Flag Cyprus

Article 30 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, which entrenches the right of every person to a public hearing, provides that the public may be excluded from all or any part of a hearing upon a decision of the court where it is in the interest of the security of the Republic or the constitutional order or the public order or the public safety or the public morals or where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require or, in special circumstances where, in the opinion of the court, publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. In practice all commercial proceedings in Cyprus are held in public. Documents filed at court are not available to the public and are generally only available to the parties to the proceedings. However, a third party may apply to the court for permission to inspect the court’s file of particular civil proceedings and obtain copies of documents and may be granted such permission, on such terms as the court deems fit, upon showing a legitimate interest.

Denmark Small Flag Denmark

As a principal rule, the hearings of civil cases are held in public where everyone has the possibility to appear and observe. However, the proceedings until the trial, including the written preparation and the preparatory meetings of civil cases are generally not public.

Judgments and court orders are available to the public. It is also possible to request access to a copy of the parties’ case summaries, and after the main hearing everyone has the right of access to certain of the parties’ procedural documents and the courts judgment. However, the right of access can be restricted if necessary due to, inter alia, a person’s private life or a trade secret. Even in such cases, the courts have to consider if the interests of the company can be protected with measures of anonymisation.

In regards to other documents of the case, such as pleadings, expert opinions and other available evidence, the courts can give everyone with an individual significant interest access to the documents. Here, the right of access can also be restricted in the interest of, inter alia, a person’s private life or a trade secret.

In addition, some judgments of general interest or leading cases are published in summary in various law journals that can be accessed online and in some instances against payment. Courts also publish some of the judgments on their web pages, but the publications often anonymizes the identity of the parties. It has for some time been debated whether there should be a public database where all judgments are published, but no such databases exists yet.

Arbitration cases are according to the Danish Arbitration Act not confidential, but the main hearing and the pleadings are generally not available to the public. A specific duty of confidentiality does, however, require an agreement between the parties or can in exceptional cases be imposed upon the parties by a confidentiality order from the tribunal.

Egypt Small Flag Egypt

It is a general principle under Egyptian law that court hearings are open to the public. However, upon the request of either of the parties to the claim or the presiding judge, the hearings maybe confidential.

While previous judgements may be accessed by the general public, court documents presented by either party are confidential and will be accessed only if the requesting party has the authority to do so, for example through a power of attorney.

Russia Small Flag Russia

As a general rule, hearings are public and all court decisions are placed in a special electronic system, which is publicly accessible (https://kad.arbitr.ru/). However, documents filed at court by the parties are not available to the public.

Under certain circumstances, the parties may request the court to close the proceedings to preserve the confidentiality of their relationship or prevent disclosure of a state, commercial or other statutorily secured secret (e.g. banking secret).

Mexico Small Flag Mexico

All hearing are held in public, nonetheless there are several cases in which the Judge is authorized to hold private hearings, such as family law matters.

Regarding documents that are filed at court, they are not available to the public, unless the parties waive their right for privacy or there is a higher court order granting access (typically from Federal Courts in amparo proceedings). However, judgments in Federal Courts are made public via internet, but the personal information of the parties is reserved.

Germany Small Flag Germany

As a rule, court hearings are held in public (sec. 169 (1) GVG). However, sec.172 et seq. GVG provide for certain exceptions which allow the court to exclude the public from the oral hearing in order to protect important business and trade secrets, e.g. when documents containing confidential information need to be read out loud and discussed in the hearing.

Written submissions of the parties (including exhibits) and other documents filed at court are in principle confidential since third parties do not have access to the court file. According to sec. 299 (1) ZPO, only the parties to the disputes and third party interveners (Nebenintervenient) may inspect the court records. Third parties are only allowed access to the court records if they can demonstrate a legitimate interest (sec. 299 (2) ZPO).

Hong Kong Small Flag Hong Kong

Hearings in Hong Kong are generally open to the public and press, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap.383). However, Practice Direction 25.1 provides the following exceptions:

  1. certain chambers hearings where statute requires that the public and press are excluded (e.g. patent application);
  2. proceedings identified in Schedule 2 of Practice Direction 25.1 including matters relating to a) disability; b) ex parte applications for injunctions or orders of a restraining or compulsory nature, c) companies winding-up and bankruptcy; d) intellectual property; e) arbitration; f) representation in legal proceedings; g) trustees; h) obtaining evidence for a foreign court;
  3. where the court is of the view that one or more of the exceptions in Article 10 of Cap 383 is satisfied, i.e. for reasons of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, or when the interests of the parties’ private lives so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice and proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children.

The only document filed at court and automatically made available to public is the writ of summons. However, other documents used in the proceedings may also be disclosed to the public if they are referred to in open court. In addition, the court judgment is also publicly available.

Guernsey Small Flag Guernsey

Proceedings in the Royal Court are normally held in public. Documents filed at Court can be obtained from the Court by members of the public and judgments are published on the Guernsey Legal Resources website.

In certain circumstances, the Court may order for proceedings to be heard in camera or for judgments to be anonymised if the interests of justice require it. Such orders are often made in sensitive trust proceedings to protect the identities of the parties. The Court will consider if justice can only be served if proceedings are heard in private.

India Small Flag India

Hearings in India take place in open court and anybody can attend the hearings Moreover, in the interest of transparency, a pilot project for video recording (no audio) of judicial proceedings is also being considered in some courts. Such recordings however would not be available to anybody without prior permission of the High Court. This project is only at experimental stage. Also, as regards online streaming of proceedings, vide judgment dated 26 September 2018, the Supreme Court has approved the live streaming of proceedings subject to a few exceptions with a view to balance various interests regarding administration of justice, including open justice, dignity and privacy of participants. [Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court of India, (2018) 10 SCC 639].

In so far as access to court documents is concerned, typically only litigants and their counsels in a particular dispute are entitled to access court documents pertaining to their pending case, including pleadings filed by the parties to the proceedings. However, the court may: (i) allow third parties to access court documents, on showing a reasonable cause; and (ii) in its discretion, pass an order to keep certain documents/pleadings in a sealed cover to ensure the confidentiality of a sensitive document.

Orders and judgments passed by the courts may, however, be available not only to the parties but also to the general public. In so far as accessibility to information is concerned, the state High Courts, Supreme Court, certain tribunals regularly update their websites. In addition to orders and judgments, these websites, in some cases, also provide other information regarding filing of pleadings by the parties to a case, the cases listed on a particular date and the listing dates of a particular matter. While presently very few district courts in India maintain a website of their own, efforts are being made to ensure that district courts all across India provide this facility.

Isle of Man Small Flag Isle of Man

The fundamental principle of open justice requires that generally hearings are held in public but there are well established exceptions which pursuant to rule 9.2(3) include situations where (i) publicity would defeat the object of the hearing; (ii) there is confidential information and publicity would damage that confidentiality; and (iii) the court considers it to be necessary to sit in private in the interests of justice.

The provisions of the RHC must be read in light of the local case law including Reid v McNicholas (Appeal Division judgment 24 July 2018).

Rule 2.21 concerns the supply of documents from court records, including the limited circumstances where a non-party can obtain court documents.

                                                                          

Italy Small Flag Italy

Only the hearing in which the case is discussed is public under penalty of nullity. All other hearings, such as for example those for the taking of evidence, are not public. In any case, the Judge may order that the discussion hearings take place behind closed doors, if there are reasons of State security, public order or good morals.

The documents are available only to the parties concerned and to their respective counsels.

Philippines Small Flag Philippines

Generally, court proceedings are open to the public, except when necessary for orderly proceedings, essential to protect privacy or confidentiality, the evidence to be produced is offensive to decency or public morals, or confidentiality of the proceedings is mandated by law or Supreme Court’s rules. A party may also request, when necessary, for closure of portions of the trial.

Court records are considered public records subject to inspection by any person, except in the interest of morality and decency or when there are privacy or confidentiality concerns. A party may request for the issuance of a protective order to maintain confidentiality of court-submitted documents. Courts may also forbid reproduction but allow inspection of the documents within the court premises should the documents contain sensitive and confidential information.

Portugal Small Flag Portugal

As a general rule, hearings are held in public unless the court, in order to safeguard personal dignity, public morality or is own normal operation, decides otherwise.

As far as documents are concerned, they can be accessed by the parties or by anyone who has a judicial mandate or a relevant interest on the case. However, if the disclosure of the contents is liable to arm personal dignity, privacy or public morality or undermine the effectiveness of the court decision, access may be limited or denied.

Slovakia Small Flag Slovakia

In principle, hearings are public, however, certain exceptions apply. The public may be excluded from the entire hearing or a part thereof only where a public hearing would pose risk to the protection of classified information, sensitive information and information protected by a special regulation (e.g. business or bank secrecy) or an important interest of a party or witness.

Documents on file of the court are accessible only to the parties to proceedings and their representatives. Other persons may examine the file only if they have good reason and rights of the parties will remain thereby unaffected.

Sweden Small Flag Sweden

Court proceedings in Sweden are in general public. This applies to all briefs and other documents filed with the court as well as hearings, decisions and judgments by the court. However, documents submitted as evidence that contain sensitive information such as for example trade secrets may be protected as confidential by the court on a party’s request. If such confidential material is to be presented at a hearing, the public can be barred from attending those parts of the hearing.

United Kingdom Small Flag United Kingdom

Court hearings are held in public, other than in exceptional circumstances (including where publicity would defeat the object of the hearing or if the hearing involves matters relating to national security). As a general rule, members of the public can obtain copies of statements of case, judgments and orders without the permission of the court. Access to all other court documents (including witness statements, expert reports, skeleton arguments and correspondence between the court and the parties) may only be obtained with the court’s permission.

Bahrain Small Flag Bahrain

According to Article 55 of the CCPL and Article 50 of the BCDR, generally the courts hearings before the commercial courts and BCDR are held in public. However, the court or BCDR Tribunal may decide to hold the hearings privately at its own discretion or based on a request of a part to preserve the public interest and morality.

However, the documents submitted to courts shall not be available to public and only parties the case, or those proving interest therein shall have the right to examine the same.

Dominican Republic Small Flag Dominican Republic

Under the Constitution and the law on judicial organization, all hearings and court dockets are public and open to the public, respectively. There are exceptions, such as family matters and litigation concerning underaged. In all other cases parties can freely ask the court to limit the exposure, although this is uncommon, as publicity is ultimately the rule.

Indonesia Small Flag Indonesia

Generally, all court hearings are open to the public, except if the law prohibits the hearings from being accessible to the public e.g. sexual harassment cases, family cases, child criminal cases, and decency cases.

The only publicly accessible documents are the court’s decisions, which are published in the court’s website. Other court briefs, such as claims, responses, replies, rejoinders, evidence and concluding statements are generally not available to the public, unless a relevant party submits a formal request to view such brief and access will only be given based on the discretion of the chairman of the relevant court.

In light of the above, from the Case Tracking System (“SIPP”) developed by the Supreme Court, the public may access brief information of any submitted, ongoing, or completed case from all courts within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Courts. One of the information published in the SIPP is the name of plaintiff and defendant as well as the prayer of relief from the lawsuit.

As for arbitration proceeding, please note that Law Number 30 of 1999 on Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution states that an arbitration proceeding is private and confidential. Hence, all documentation relating to an arbitration proceeding will not be accessible to the public.

Malaysia Small Flag Malaysia

The general rule provides that all trials proper are to be conducted in open court and are open to the public. This is encapsulated under Section 15 of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964 (“CJA”).

The documents are filed in court electronically and are available to the public. The documents can be purchased by anyone through a monitored system namely the “e-filing system”.

There are exceptions to this general rule. The Court is vested with powers to hear any cause or matter or any part thereof in camera or to preserve the confidentiality of the matter on an application of any party as long as the Court is satisfied that it is expedient in the interests of justice, public safety, public security or propriety, or for other sufficient reason so to do. [See proviso under Section 15(1) of the CJA]

Chile Small Flag Chile

The general rule of the ChCPC is the publicity of the trial. Our legislation expressly recognizes that the acts of the courts are public, except for the exceptions expressly established by law.

In accordance with this, the file of civil and commercial litigation can be consulted by anyone even from the Internet official Judicial Branch Web Page. However, in other more sensitive matters (family law or criminal law) the files are confidential to anyone who is not part of the trial.

In practice, however, it is common for the courts of first instance not to allow the presence of foreign third parties in the few hearings that take place before the civil courts. Oral arguments before the courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court are freely accessible to the public.

Malta Small Flag Malta

As a general rule, all commercial proceedings in front of the courts of Malta and also in front of the above mentioned tribunals are heard in public and therefore any member of the public can attend all the hearings held before the courts and the said tribunals but this rule may be subject to exceptions laid down in the law. One example of an exception to this general rule is contemplated in article 21(10) of the Malta Financial Services Authority Act which provides that the Financial Services Tribunal shall hold its sittings in public unless, having regard to the nature of the matter before it, the said Tribunal deems it fit and proper to conduct the proceedings or any part thereof behind closed doors; in any such case, the decision of the Tribunal shall always be delivered in public.

All documents and records of the proceedings are accessible to the public. However, as an exception to this general rule, the Court or Tribunal may order that certain documents filed in the records of the proceedings be sealed and this if such documents contain confidential information or may otherwise be prejudicial to the parties in the proceedings if made public.

Switzerland Small Flag Switzerland

As a rule, civil law court hearings in Switzerland are held in public. However, if the public interest or the legitimate interest of a person involved so requires, the court may exclude the public from court hearings. Generally, public interest in commercial cases is rather limited and court hearings are typically not attended by persons other than the representatives of the parties.

The written submissions and evidence filed by the parties are not made available to the public. However, copies of court decisions may be requested by anyone but are generally only made available in anonymised form. Additionally, many higher cantonal and federal courts have, in the recent years, started to publish most of their decisions in anonymised form on their websites.

Greece Small Flag Greece

The public character of the hearing is in principle mandatory in commercial litigation. However, the documents submitted by the parties are available only to the opposite litigant party and not to the public. Exceptionally, persons having specific legal interest on a case may receive copies of documents included in the files of the case by order of the judge on duty.

Norway Small Flag Norway

As a main rule, court hearings are public, but there are exceptions. Closing a hearing requires a formal decision by the court. Furthermore, documents relating to a proceeding are publicly available by request. This includes court records, court judgements and statements of costs. However, the initiating documents in a case are typically not public, except for the written closing submission. In commercial disputes, the most important exception from the main rule of publicity is probably the exception covering trade or business secrets.

Luxembourg Small Flag Luxembourg

Court hearings are public, unless such publicity is dangerous to order or morality, in which case the court declares it by a judgment. In any case, all judgments must be rendered publicly.

However, In Luxembourg, court filings are not open to the public.

United States Small Flag United States

U.S. courts recognize a common law right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents. However, this right is not absolute, and courts have the authority to deny access where court files may be used for improper purposes or where certain privacy concerns exist (e.g., medical records or competitively sensitive information). Where sensitive information is to be filed, parties often have the option to file such information under seal, allowing access to the court and related personnel but withholding the information from the public.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a presumptive First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings in criminal cases, it has not directly addressed whether this right applies to civil proceedings. Some state courts (e.g., the California Supreme Court) have interpreted the First Amendment right of access to apply to civil as well as criminal proceedings. Nonetheless, courts generally permit the public to attend civil hearings and restrict access only in limited circumstances (e.g., where certain privacy concerns exist).

Iran Small Flag Iran

The hearings for commercial disputes are held in public, unless the court decides a public hearing will harm public order or good morals, or unless asked by the parties to have a private hearing. In practice, commercial hearings are almost always held in camera.

Court documents such as statements of claim and defence, petitions, subpoenas, supplementary submissions and supporting documents as well as court ruling relating to commercial cases are not publicly available; though final judgments may be published on occasional basis usually by legal publications.

The Netherlands Small Flag The Netherlands

In principle, court hearings are held in public. Only under special circumstances the court may decide to conduct court hearings behind closed doors (for instance in case of: the interest of public policy or public morality, state security, privacy, and the interest of minors). A party may also request a closed hearing when confidential business trade information is to be discussed.

Court records, exhibits and other documents belonging to the case file are not disclosed to third parties (journalists sometimes inspect the docket register of summary proceedings).

Ecuador Small Flag Ecuador

Since the General Organic Code on Proceedings went into effect in 2014, proceedings have been oral in nature and the claims of the parties are resolved at trial. Judicial proceedings before the courts are governed by the principle of openness. Therefore, all procedural proceedings and documents in the case file are public. There is an online system known as SATJE where court orders and certain proceedings are published. In arbitration proceedings, it is possible to covenant confidentiality, and this constitutes an exception to the openness of the proceedings.

UAE Small Flag UAE

Pursuant to Article 76 of the Civil Procedures Law hearings shall be public.

However, there are exceptions if the Court, of its own discretion or at the request of any party, decides to hold a closed/private hearing as to maintain public order, or to observe morals or family privacy.

Documents and memos filed in court are not public and are only available to the parties and their legal representatives.

Armenia Small Flag Armenia

Hearings are in general public, which is ensured by the principle of publicity of civil proceedings. Nonetheless, according to the Article 17 part 2: ‘For the purpose of protection of the privacy of the participants of the proceedings, including trade secrets, interests of minors or justice, as well as national security, social order or morality, the court may, upon the motion of a person participating in the case or on its own initiative, examine the case or a part thereof in a closed court session’.

On the other hand, all the documents filed to the court are available only to the participants of the proceedings, including the parties, the third parties involved in the dispute, so as applicants and those interested in the outcome of the examination of an application. While the decisions of the court are available on www.datalex.am, and the decisions of the Court of Cassation are published in the official gazette (and further duplicated at www.arlis.am – Armenian legal information system).

Updated: July 3, 2019