Veolia ES Nottinghamshire Ltd v Nottinghamshire County Council [2010] EWCA Civ 1214

17 Feb 2011

The Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Veolia clarifies the extent to which a local authority may withhold commercially sensitive information in its possession from those seeking to exercise a right to inspect the authority’s accounts and related documents under section 15 of the Audit Commission Act 1998. Rix LJ (with whom Etherton and Jackson LJJ agreed on this point) indicated that the seemingly unfettered right to access accounts and certain categories of related documents of a local authority that is available to “persons interested” under section 15 must be “read down” – in accordance with Article 1, Protocol 1 of the ECHR (protection of peaceful enjoyment of possessions) – so as to protect the commercial confidentiality of those documents or parts of those documents, unless disclosure is objectively justified. This judgment, no doubt, comes as a relief to local authority contractors who must have been concerned, following the Administrative Court’s decision in this case, that commercially sensitive information could be readily obtained under section 15 and thereafter be passed onto competitors or enter the public domain.

Ian Rogers appeared for Nottinghamshire County Council.