Halcon International Inc v Shell Transport and Trading Co: CA 1979

A document could continue to have confidentiality after being read out in court. The documents referred to in the judgment had not been read in court. ‘The general provision of English law with regard to the use of documents which have been made available by a party in discovery in an English action is, I think, not in dispute. I am quite content to accept it as it is set out in passages in Bray on Discovery, 1st ed. (1885). It is an old book, published in 1885; but, so far as concerns the principles which I am going to quote, they are, in my judgment, still applicable and they are accurately set out. At p. 238 it is said: ‘A party who has obtained access to his adversary’s documents under an order for production has no right to make their contents public or communicate them to any stranger to the suit.’ The reasons for that have been stated in a number of cases in the courts. One of them is, to my mind, an obvious reason: documents belonging to a party are their own property. It is perfectly right, in accordance with English procedure, that, where litigation is involved in which that party is either the plaintiff or the defendant, he should be obliged to disclose documents which are in his possession, even though they may tell against his own interest, subject always, of course, to particular rules as to certain documents being privileged (which does not arise in this case). But it is in general wrong that one who is thus compelled by law to produce documents for purposes of particular proceedings should be in peril of having these documents used by the other party for some purpose other than the purpose of those particular legal proceedings and, in particular, that they should be made available to third parties who might use them to the detriment of the party who has produced them on discovery. And there is the further, practical, reason which has been stressed recently in the case of Riddick v. Thames Board Mills Ltd. [1979] Q.B. 881, by Lord Denning M.R.: that it is important, for the administration of justice, that there should not be a disincentive to parties to make proper discovery, so that they are minded to hold back, and seek to avoid the disclosure of documents which may tell against themselves in litigation. One substantial disincentive would be if there was the danger that those documents, being disclosed, might be used for purposes outside the purposes of the particular action. . . . Mr. Bray in his book at p. 239 says: ‘The principle, however’ – that is, the principle in the passage which I have recently quoted – ‘is not that the party cannot be compelled to divulge them for any other purpose even if the court should in any case so think fit, but that they cannot be used except under the authority of the court: …’ It is open to the court, if the court sees fit, to give permission to a party who has obtained documents or copies of documents on discovery *545 in an action, to use those documents for a purpose other than the purposes of the action in respect of which they have been produced.’
Megaw LJ
[1979] RPC 97
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedHome Office v Hariette Harman HL 11-Feb-1982
The defendant had permitted a journalist to see documents revealed to her as in her capacity as a solicitor in the course of proceedings.
Held: The documents were disclosed under an obligation to use them for the instant case only. That rule . .

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Updated: 11 February 2021; Ref: scu.223344