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

Litigation

Pakistan Small Flag Pakistan

Yes, the hearings are held in public. There is no restriction preventing any member of the public from visiting the court premises and sitting through a hearing.

Similarly, all documents filed in court are public documents that are available to the public upon payment of a prescribed fee.

Malta Small Flag Malta

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. Similarly 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.

Singapore Small Flag Singapore

Generally, hearings are open to the public. However, family proceedings, hearings held in the Judges’ or Registrars’ chambers, including pre-trial conferences, are not open to the public. Hearings which involve the testimony of a vulnerable witness may also be closed to the public.

Documents filed in Court are generally not made available to the public. Media representatives may, however, request to inspect a case file and court documents for reporting purposes.

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).

Spain Small Flag Spain

Hearings are generally held in public. Nevertheless, they may be held in a closed session if the court, having previously heard the parties, finds it necessary for the protection of public order, national security, the interests of minors, the privacy of the parties, or for the protection of other rights and liberties; or when the court considers that holding the hearing publicly might not be in the interests of justice.

When it comes both to documents and the status of court proceedings, they are generally available to any person who can prove that they have a legitimate interest in them, always at their own expense, and as long as they have not been declared restricted or confidential. The Judge will examine if each person has a legitimate interest.

Indonesia Small Flag Indonesia

Generally, all court hearings are open to the public. In exception, several types of hearings are prohibited by the law to be accessible by the public e.g. criminal cases, sexual harassment cases, family cases, child criminal cases, and decency cases.

The Law Number 30 of 1999 concerning Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution provides that arbitration proceedings are private and confidential.

On a separate note, the only publicly accessible documents are published in the court websites, i.e. the court decision of the case Other filed documents such as claims, responses, replies, rejoinders, and especially concluding statements are limited to public access unless formally requested by the relevant parties. These documents will be given to the applicant based on the discretion of the Chairman of the District Court.

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 needs 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).

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 deleted.

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.

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.

Hong Kong Small Flag Hong Kong

Hearings in Hong Kong are generally open to the public and press, which is 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; and h) obtaining evidence for a foreign court;
  3. where the court is of the view that one or more of the reasons in Article 10 of Cap 383 are 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 the 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.

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.

Ireland Small Flag Ireland

All commercial proceedings in Ireland are held in public. Documents filed in court (such as initiating documents, Notices of Motion and Affidavits) are not available to the public and are generally only available to parties to the proceedings themselves. However, certain information in relation to High Court proceedings and the filing of documents (such as the nature of the document, the party who filed it and the date it was filed) is available to the public via an online database maintained by the Courts Service.

Switzerland Small Flag Switzerland

Hearings are usually public, but the public may be excluded upon request of either party, if the requesting party establishes a legitimate interest. It can however be noted that commercial litigation does not attract a lot of public interest, which is why court hearings are usually not visited by persons other than representatives of the parities. Settlement hearings are in most cases not public as a matter of principle. Documents filed at court are not available to the public.

Chile Small Flag Chile

In Chile, civil and commercial proceedings are mainly written at first level courts. Hearings are an exception and they are not held in public since they are limited to certain specific matters (e.g. witnesses’ interrogation, appointment of expert witnesses).

Before second instance courts, oral proceedings are the general rule and hearings are held publicly.

The documents filed at court are accessible to the public in both first and second instance courts. The case file is public and access is available at the courts and also electronically via internet, since it is uploaded to the Justice Administration website.

Documents submitted to the court will be public unless law stipulates otherwise under express text of law. Exceptionally, parties could request privacy and non-public access for some documents because of confidentiality or other justified reasons.

In the arbitration procedures rule absolute privacy either for filings, hearings and documents.

Sweden Small Flag Sweden

Sweden employs the principle of public access; documents sent to and by courts are made official in the sense that the general public has access to the documents and are able to attend hearings. There are, however, exceptions to this principle. Secrecy can apply under the Swedish Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (Sw. offentlighets- och sekretesslagen) to information that concerns a private party’s business or operations if it can be assumed that disclosure of the information would cause harm to that party. In practice, this means that the general public is unable to take part of such information and that, if any such information is to be presented during a hearing, that particular part of the hearing will be held without public access.

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.

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.

Saudi Arabia Small Flag Saudi Arabia

Hearings before the Commercial Court are held in open court, but proceed mainly on documents. Documents filed in court are not available to the public. When judgments are published, the parties’ names are not reported. Proceedings before specialized tribunals are in camera.

Norway Small Flag Norway

Hearings are held in public. The public is entitled to access to court records, records of judicial mediation, judicial rulings and statements of costs. In addition, in cases that are not heard entirely in writing, the public is also entitled to access to written closing submissions, and evidence and supporting documents that are invoked at an oral hearing. The most relevant exception from public access for commercial disputes, allows the court to refuse access to documents that contain trade or business secrets.

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).

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 generally 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. Anonymised judgments rendered by the Austrian Supreme Court (and sometimes by lower courts as well) are published on the internet and are available 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).

United Kingdom Small Flag United Kingdom

Statements of case are filed on a public register and can (in general) be searched and copied by members of the public once the parties have acknowledged service of the claim. Hearings and decisions are made in public, other than in exceptional circumstances. These include where: publicity would defeat the object of the hearing; the hearing involves matters relating to national security; the hearing involves confidential information (including information relating to personal financial matters); or publicity would damage that confidentiality or the court considers this to be necessary, in the interests of justice.

Denmark Small Flag Denmark

According to Section 65 of the Danish Constitution, publicity and orality in the administration of justice must be carried out to the greatest possible extent. Nevertheless, in civil cases preparatory hearings are not held in public unless evidence is being produced for the use of the final hearing. Preparatory hearings are often held as telephone conferences. The final hearing is held in public leading to the possibility for anyone to appear and observe the hearings. Furthermore viewers are allowed to report orally or in writing from the final hearings.

As the primary rule according to Section 41 of the Danish Administration of Justice Act everyone has also the right to access documents from court proceedings, hereunder judgments and court orders. However, according to Section 41 b of the Danish Administration of Justice Act there are various exceptions to the primary rule. For instance if the judgment or court order contains information about a person's private life or about business secrets the right to access documents will be restricted. However, it is a condition that publication of the judgment or the court order will severely damage the business for the right to be restricted. Furthermore the court has also to consider if the principle of an expanded right to access documents (In Danish: meroffentlighed) applies. This principle requires that even though the conditions for access are not necessarily fulfilled, the court is still obliged to consider whether a right to access documents can be granted. The expanded access even applies if a right to access documents is already provided, but perhaps with some restrictions. Here the court must consider if an even greater right to access can be granted. It is important to add that the principle of expanded right to access documents only apples if it will not be contrary to other legislation, especially GDPR.

In addition, it must be mentioned that most cases in Denmark are published in summary in various law reports, but often without revealing the identity of the parties. The most important law report is the Danish Weekly Law Reports (In Danish: Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen). If a case is not published herein, access must be sought through the court directly and an administrative fee is required.

It has for many years been debated whether there should be a database or report where all Danish judgments are made public to which everyone should be granted access free of charge. This debate has recently resurfaced, but funding is difficult.

France Small Flag France

Hearings are held in public except in cases where the law requires that they take place in chambers (chambre du conseil). French law provides, inter alia, that the court may decide to hear the case in chambers, when:

  • a public hearing is likely to infringe the parties’ right to privacy;
  • a public hearing is likely to interfere with the serenity of the judicial debates; or
  • all the parties so request.

In practice, it is very rare for the court to depart from the publicity.
Documents which are submitted to the court, such as submissions and exhibits, are not available to the public, but the parties’ pleas are usually set out (at least, in a summary way) in the public judgment.

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, a petition seeking live-streaming of proceedings in the Supreme Court in order to make justice accessible to all is presently pending adjudication.

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.

Updated: August 29, 2018