Say Bob filed a civil lawsuit against Rob. Normally documents that get filed on the case will be served on Bob (and all other parties involved) — submissions, affidavits, judges' minutes etc.

I am aware of one exception: application without notice. Rob could make such an application and, if accepted, Bob will not even know about it.

Are there any other similar situations where Bob can legally be prevented from seeing documents on his case? If he learns that any such document exists, could he demand that it is disclosed?

(Answers for jurisdictions other than New Zealand are welcome too).

2 Answers 2


I can think of several relevant situations.

Protective Orders

While it is not strictly part of the "case file", it isn't uncommon in commercial lawsuits between competitors (e.g. trademark disputes) for some documents that are disclosed in the case to a plaintiff to be disclosed on an "attorney's eyes only" basis pursuant to a protective order entered by the judge in the case.

Typically, this would involve documents that contain trade secrets that cannot be easily redacted from information that the plaintiff is entitled to learn about.

Conceivably, such documents could also be filed "under seal" in support of a motion.

In Camera Review

Sometimes, in the course of a case, a defendant will claim that certain documents are "privileged" from having to be disclosed, for example, because they including attorney-client confidential communications, and the plaintiff will dispute that fact. In those circumstances, sometimes the judge is shown the document itself which is not made available to the plaintiff, in order to allow the judge to make that determination, especially in a case headed to a jury trial. This process is called in camera review.

Temporary Lack Of Disclosure Of Ex Parte Motions For "Tactical" Reasons

I can image circumstances where something that is the basis of an ex parte motion (e.g. a request for permission to enter into a party's premises to search for documents or evidence or disputed property, without prior notice to prevent the things from being concealed or destroyed), would be granted "under seal" and not available to the plaintiff (and possibly not even listed in an official register of actions) until the ex parte motion which was granted is carried out. But, the non-disclosure to the other party in these circumstances usually wouldn't be a permanent matter.

It is much more common for this to happen in a case where the defendant is not allowed to see something filed by a plaintiff than the other way around.

National Security

Documents implicating national security can also sometimes be filed by the other party with the court "under seal", typically in support of a motion to have the plaintiff's case or part of the plaintiff's case dismissed on the grounds that this would risk a revelation of state secrets.

Sometimes, when the attorney, but not the client, has a security clearance, these documents can be made available to the attorney, but not to the client, on an "attorney's eyes only" basis.



Assume "Rob" is a government and the evidence he wants to use has defence or security implications - Bob can be denied access to these. These are particularly common in immigration matters where adverse security findings on Bob would not be provided to him. I'm sure you can imagine scenarios in civil litigation against a government by a defence contractor where similar restrictions apply.

  • National security is above justice, isn't it?
    – Greendrake
    Jul 3, 2019 at 3:10
  • 1
    @Greendrake of course it is. “Justice” is considered by most governments to be an ‘optional extra’ - rule of law doesn’t mean the rules have to be fair.
    – Dale M
    Jul 3, 2019 at 3:25

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