Discovery (in the context of litigation)

The legal process of producing a list of all documents related to the proceedings currently or formerly in the party’s possession. If documents were formerly in the party’s possession, the party will also need to specify when they had them, and who they were distributed to. Discovered documents may only be used for the purposes of the proceedings. Once a document is admitted as evidence, it becomes part of the public record. As such, if sensitive or compromising documents exist, parties should take this into account prior to commencing litigation. Documents subject to lawyer-client privilege are exempt from discovery.

Discovery is a key part of the litigation process, as it is often required to obtain documents and information needed for evidence. It can also bring to light new evidence or paths of inquiry for both parties. It is in the interests of the parties to receive all the documentary information intended to be relied upon so as to obtain informed advice on the prospects of success, and to prepare and anticipate trial strategies.

In Australian civil law, discovery is enshrined into legal procedure. The process involves filing and serving a sworn affidavit to the court listing and affirming the relevant documents past and presently in their possession. If a party receives a document irrelevant to the matter or unintentionally disclosed, they are obligated to destroy it at the earliest opportunity.