Home > Cases > R (Veolia ES Nottinghamshire Ltd) v Nottinghamshire County Council [2009] EWHC 2382 (Admin)

The first interested party was a local elector in the area of the defendant local authority. He applied to inspect and make copies of three schedules to a contract made between the claimant waste management company and the authority, together with monthly invoices under it. The authority had prepared a statement of accounts for the year ending 31 March 2009, and in addition had notified the public that the accounts were to be open for public inspection. The first interested party applied to the authority to inspect and take copies of the 3 schedules and invoices. The claimant objected to disclosure of any of its documents (unless already disclosed with its consent) or under freedom of information requests. The claimant contended that schedules and invoices were confidential information and that, in any event, the first interested party did not have a right to inspect them as none of them “related to” the accounts that were to be audited. The authority wrote to the company informing it that it proposed to make the disputed documents available for inspection. The claimant challenged that decision by way of judicial review.

The issue to be determined was whether the 3 schedules and invoices fell within the statutory right of inspection and copying under the Audit Commission Act 1998, section 15(1), i.e. whether they were ‘books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers, and receipts’ ‘relating to’ ‘the accounts to be audited’ of the council.

Held: The documents in question were subject to the requirement to disclose. The phrase the ‘accounts to be audited’ in the context of the 1998 Act meant the general ledger and any account feeding into it. Thus the accounts represented all the financial movements or items of account, and included the supporting records to the accounts themselves (see [49] of the judgment). The Act did not confer an unqualified right of access to documents held by a body to be audited. There had to be a nexus between the accounts to be audited and the documents. That simply meant that there had to be a factual enquiry as to whether there was a connection between the documents and the accounts (see [48]-[56] of the judgment). In the instant case, the schedules related to the accounts, and each payment to the claimant during the financial year constituted an item within the authority’s accounts for that year. In contrast to the duty to protect personal information, there was no duty to keep commercial confidentiality under s 15. Whether or not the authority had contracted to keep the information confidential was not relevant to the issue of statutory disclosure. Accordingly, the documents were disclosed to the first interested party (see [66]-[68], [79] of the judgment).

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