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Tax officials 'disappointed' after losing court battle with investment firm boss

Published 19/10/2016

Supreme Court justices ruled in favour of Patrick McKenna after a hearing in London
Supreme Court justices ruled in favour of Patrick McKenna after a hearing in London

Tax officials say they are disappointed after losing a fight with the boss of an investment and advisory company who had featured in newspaper articles about avoidance schemes.

Patrick McKenna, founder of the Ingenious Media group, had claimed that a senior official at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) abused his power when disclosing information to journalists.

He wanted a declaration that disclosures by David Hartnett were unlawful.

HMRC bosses disputed his claim.

A High Court judge and three Court of Appeal judges had ruled against Mr McKenna, but five Supreme Court justices have ruled in his favour after a hearing in London.

Mr Hartnett was permanent secretary for tax when he had an off-the-record briefing with two journalists from The Times in 2012, judges were told.

Supreme Court justices said the tax affairs of individuals were matters between the HMRC and those people.

They said confidentiality was a "vital element" in the system, and information supplied by Mr Hartnett to Times journalists was "confidential in nature".

They added that HMRC "owed a duty of confidentiality".

An HMRC spokesman said: "Having earlier won this case in both the High Court and Court of Appeal, HMRC is naturally disappointed by the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court.

"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."

An Ingenious spokesman said: "We are delighted that the Supreme Court has unanimously found in our favour.

"This was never about restricting HMRC's ability to collect taxes, nor was it about preventing the press from investigating public interest stories.

"Consistent with HMRC's own guidelines, this was simply about upholding the basic legal principle that HMRC owe 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."

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