Finding Documents

Collect together the relevant documents - you have to do this

When you ask me to give you legal advice, or to draft a Letter of Claim or pleadings in a court or tribunal case, or an application to the Land Registry, you will need to provide me with copies (as computer files not on paper) of relevant documents which you have, or can obtain. You will also need to look for documents during the course of litigation, particularly at the Disclosure of Documents stage. The documents you have may be on paper, or they may be JPG photos or MP4 video files, or PDFs and spreadsheets, on your computer, tablet or mobile phone, or emails "in the cloud" such as in Gmail. Whatever the form of the documents, and wherever they are located, you need to preserve the originals, and make copies. 

Depending what your case is about and on whether there is still relevant evidence available to be photographed, you may need to take photographs/videos of land, of buildings or of objects. 
You might need to take copies of webpages.

There may be relevant documents which you do not currently have but which you might be able to obtain by asking other people or organisations, public or private, if they can provide copies of documents they may have.

If your case concerns land you might obtain historical aerial or ground-level photographsobtain historical maps, and/or obtain current maps such as an Ordnance Survey map. You might want to obtain a copy of the relevant part of the map of Adopted Highways (held by Highway Authorities such a county councils under the Highways Act 1980) or of the Definitive Map of Public Paths (also held by such authorities, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). These may provide useful information about the land you are concerned with if it borders a highway or has a highway passing through it. 

You might want to obtain records of planning permissionsIf relevant you can obtain Wills from the Probate Registry. 

Some documents relevant to companies registered under the Companies Acts and limited liability partnerships can be obtained from Companies House. This includes companies which have been dissolved within the last 20 years. Most documents held by Companies House are available to download but some pre-1990 records may be held only in paper form and a visit to their offices may then be required. Records of companies dissolved more than 20 years ago might be held by the National ArchivesDocuments for mutuals can be obtained from the FCA


Barristers do not investigate or collect evidence

Barristers do not investigate or collect evidence. The reason for this is that if matters get to the stage of litigation, the way in which evidence was collected might need to be proved and a barrister cannot act as a witness in the same case as they act as advocate. For example in case the date that a photograph was taken should be disputed it is usual for the person who took a photograph to say, in their witness statement, when they took it. What a website - e.g. the website of your opponent - contained on a particular day might be disputed so if a PDF copy of a webpage needs to be taken, you need to take the copy so that you can, if necessary at trial, formally confirm the URL and the date on which you took the copy. So you yourself will need to carry out any investigations, searches, photography etc. which may be needed, and provide me with the copies of the photographs taken or documents found. If, when I am drafting an Opinion or carrying out other drafting work, it becomes apparent that you have not provided me with a key document but it just happens to be a document I can easily obtain online from a statutory public register such as Companies House, I may, to save time, obtain a copy myself direct. In this case there is little risk that the way the document was obtained might become the subject of a dispute, because anyone can obtain a copy from the same statutory register. However you should not rely on me obtaining anything direct from Companies House etc. and you should carry out as much investigation/searching as you think appropriate given the amount of time you have and the importance of the matter to you. That would include searching a statutory register such as Companies House, if relevant, as thoroughly as you consider the case warrants, even if, for convenience, I happen to have obtained some documents direct from them.


Searching at the Land Registry

Having said that barristers only obtain documents from statutory registers in exceptional circumstances such as where a client has accidentally not provided a key document which, it just happens, the barrister can easily obtain direct from that statutory register online, there is an exception to this. The exception is certain kinds of case where historical documents need to be searched for at the Land Registry. 

It is easy for anyone to obtain from the Land Registry a copy of the Register of Title and Title Plan of any plot of registered land if you know the title number, and finding the title number of a plot is not difficult. The Register of Title may mention some selected historical deeds such as conveyances and transfers and if the reference includes the words COPY FILED then it is easy to obtain a copy of that document from the Land Registry. In many cases such documents, which are easy for the client to obtain, will be sufficient, but there are other cases where a broad sweep of the available documents for a plot and surrounding plots is necessary to piece together how plots have been divided and united over particular decades in the past, before the search can be focused on looking for specific known documents. In these cases where, to coin a phrase, an unknown unknown has first to be investigated before the known unknown can be established, the initial broad sweep search needs to be carried out by a specialist lawyer.

For example if a dispute concerns a restrictive covenant imposed by a document executed this century then a copy of the document itself will be filed under the title number or the burdened property (and therefore be readily obtainable) and it may well be that the client would know if any relevant land had since come into common ownership making the covenant unenforceable. But if the restrictive covenant was imposed in, for example, the middle of the 20th Century then not only is the Register of Title likely only to have an extract from the wording of the document (and not have the words COPY FILED) but the client is unlikely to know with any certainty about all divisions and unitings of plots of land since the mid 20th Century. So a broad sweep search for historical documents at the Land Registry will be necessary firstly to try to establish what land was intended to be benefited by the restrictive covenant (the ownership and configuration of land at the time the covenant was imposed may shed light on this) and secondly to establish whether the pattern of unitings and dividing of land subsequent to the covenant being made makes the covenant unenforceable.                 

If you ask the Land Registry for a copy of a document e.g. Conveyance dated 1 July 1948, filed under a title number e.g. AB123456, and there is a conveyance of that date filed under that title number then they will provide you with an official copy on payment of a fee. If you don't know the exact date of the Conveyance but know the approximate date and know that it is filed under title AB123456 (and particularly if you have other information about it such as the name of one of the parties) then again you can ask for and obtain an official copy. But you have to know or suspect that a document is filed under a particular title number before you know to ask. If you ask for a document and a document of that date is not filed under the title number you specify then the Land Registry will simply reply that they cannot find the document you have asked for filed in the title number you have specified. The Land Registry will not look in title numbers other than the one you specified to see if a copy of the the document is held there. This is partly because the Land Registry do not have a comprehensive index (many older documents are held in paper form and have not yet been digitised) but it is also a matter of policy - the Land Registry do not make public even those indexes they do have and, when dealing with requests for official copies, they will not use the indexes they have to see if a document you are seeking is filed under a different title number - they will only look in the title number you specify. They will not even provide a list of the documents filed under a particular title number.

For these reasons it is very difficult for anyone who is not a specialist lawyer to carry out the kind of broad sweep search which is needed initially in certain kinds of cases - often cases concerning rights of way or restrictive covenants. But It is possible for a lawyer, using a mixture of educated guesswork and knowing how the land registration system has operated during various periods and how documents are organised, and what documents might contain sufficient information to enable other documents to be located, to uncover a considerable amount - sometimes uncovering all land documents necessary for the case but, if not, at least moving the matter on from an unknown unknown to a known unknown which may mean that more focused searching for documents can then be carried out by the client themselves.

Because it is virtually impossible for clients themselves to carry out the kind of broad sweep search for unknown unknowns described above - which is necessary in some (not all) cases - and because there is no professional objection to barristers carrying out a search at the Land Registry (because there is no realistic possibility of anyone seriously disputing the reliability of copies of documents as anyone given the copy obtained can easily obtain, if they wish, their own official copy by making a simple request to the Land Registry) barristers are often willing to do Land Registry searches, in cases where that is necessary, as an exception to the normal principle that barristers do not investigate or collect evidence.                  


FAQs

Should I look for documents about past court/tribunal cases my opponent has been involved in?  

If your dispute is with a business or other organisation, and you suspect that the organisation has had similar disputes with other people in the past which have resulted in court or tribunal cases, you could look at records for previous court/tribunal cases. In fact it is relatively rare for past court cases to be relevant as no two cases are exactly alike, but if you have the time and wish to do so, you could make enquiries. Barristers look at court and tribunal cases which set legal precedents – generally decisions of the higher courts and tribunals - but they do not search for past cases involving the other party so, if this is to be done, you would need to do this.

In the past I have engaged solicitors - is correspondence between me and my former solicitors likely to be relevant?

Letters and emails sent by you to your solicitors or received by you from your solicitors might possibly be relevant but they will generally be privileged documents (unless the other side was copied in) and need to be kept separate from other (non-privileged) documents. Sometimes it is necessary to refer to these privileged documents but more often it is the correspondence between your solicitor and the other side (which is not privileged) which needs to be referred to and you should obtain from your former solicitor copies of all correspondence which your solicitor sent out/received from the other side, both letters and emails. Your solicitors may have sent you drafts of letters for your comments but you need to obtain copies of the letters as actually sent out by your solicitor to the other side.

  

Disclaimer

This information page is designed to be used only by clients of John Antell who have entered into, or are about to enter into, an agreement for the provision of legal services. The information in it is necessarily of a general nature and is intended to be used only in conjunction with specific advice to the individual client about the individual case. This information page should not be used by, or relied on, by anyone else.

The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.

This page was lasted updated in May 2020.   Disclaimer