HMRC loses Supreme Court appeal on film partnership press briefing


Film partnership firm Ingenious has won a Supreme Court appeal against HM Revenue and Customs which ruled HMRC unlawfully disclosed confidential information in an “off the record” press briefing.

The briefing took place in June 2012 and was between then-permanent secretary of HMRC David Hartnett and two journalists.

Ingenious says HMRC justified the briefing because it wanted to foster good relationships with the press to publicise its views on elaborate tax avoidance schemes.

An Ingenious spokesman says the appeal was not brought with the intention of restricting HMRC’s ability to collect taxes or prevent the press from investigating public interest stories.

The spokesman says: “Consistent with HMRC’s own guidelines, this was simply about upholding the basic legal principle that HMRC owes a duty of confidentiality to each and every taxpayer and their affairs should not form the subject of ‘off the record’ background briefings to the media.”

According to Ingenious, the information disclosed was only “tangentially” related to the current case before the First Tier Tax Tribunal and the film production schemes that Ingenious operated. It says the briefing took place before Ingenious decided to bring the legal proceedings at the tribunal.

In a statement, Ingenious explains the unanimous Supreme Court decision said HMRC officials supplying confidential information about individuals to the media on a non-attributable basis is – or should be – a matter of serious concern.

The statement adds: “The five judges of the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the arguments put forward by HMRC could not possibly justify a senior official, or any other official of HMRC, discussing the affairs of individual tax payers with journalists.  Neither did the judges accept HMRC’s defence that because Hartnett did not expect his comments to be reported that he was justified in making them.”

HMRC says it is “disappointed” with the decision.

A spokesman says: “HMRC defended this case because it considered that the disclosure made by Mr Hartnett was lawful. However, the Supreme Court has decided otherwise and we will examine the judgment in detail.”

He adds: “It is important to clarify that this judgment has no bearing on the three Ingenious film partnerships considered by the first tier tribunal, where HMRC was successful. This protected around £400m in revenues for the Exchequer.”

Both Ingenious and HMRC are thought to be considering appealing the tribunal decision which, at the time it was released, both sides claimed to have won.