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Your right to search documents

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Do you know that an interested party has the right to search, inspect and copy certain court documents? Every day, (except Saturday, Sundays and bank holidays) documents are filed in the court to start matters. These documents are received by the court, given a number (Example: No.1 of 2018) and placed in filing cabinets until they are needed. These files are drawn from time to time to receive further filed documents and are given to the master for case management and the judge for a scheduled hearing in court.

Not everyone needs to, or wants to inspect court documents. In fact, few persons, unless personally involved, would want to search or inspect. Sometimes the media would want to inspect a document in a matter of public interest. The method is simple, but there are strict rules about the inspection of documents and only certain documents can be inspected.

Documents available to the public

Pursuant to Civil Procedure Rules (2000), any person can search, inspect or copy a document that initiates or ends a matter. These is a claim form, or a notice of appeal, that initiates a matter in the High Court and Appeal Court, respectively. A judgment, or order of the court, at the end of a matter could be extracted for inspection. Any other documents in that file must be obtained on leave of the court. An application to the court (without a notice) could be made to make the document available for inspection.

Rights of parties in the matter

The above restriction does not apply to the parties in the matter. A party in the matter can search, inspect or copy any other document besides the claim form, or notice of appeal without permission from the court. This includes affidavits made by either parties and filed in the court office.

No removal of documents

Documents filed in the court are under the custody of the court and cannot be removed by anyone without the leave of court. These are usually original document that must remain in the file even after the matter is finished. Filed documents could be taken out without leave of the court only if taken to another court or the magistrate court.

The Land Registry

The Land Registry is the repository for deeds (title deed) to land and mortgages in SVG. In the early days, many of our fore parents failed to register land/property. Parents used to leave land to their children by word of mouth. Land was occupied by many generations without registration. When land was sold, the seller gave the purchaser a receipt instead of a title deed, making it difficult to pass on title. Today, all transfers must be registered and a deed must be issued to the purchaser. The original copy is filed at the Land Registry and it becomes the record of the land.

When the land is sold, a new deed must be issued based on the information in the old deed on record, for example, the quantity, boundaries and the location of the land. It is essential to have a registered deed especially when one wants to apply for a mortgage. The bank has to check the Land Registry to make sure there are no mortgages on the land. Lawyers who prepare deeds for purchasers, employ clerks to search for deeds to obtain the necessary information and to make sure there are no mortgages on the land.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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