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Good Law Project v HMRC

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Our pick of this week's cases

In Good Law Project v HMRC (and Uber as interested party) [2019] EWHC 3125 (19 November 2019), the High Court found that HMRC could disclose confidential information concerning Uber in the course of civil proceedings.

This was an application by HMRC for a court order under CRCA 2005 s 18. It arose in a judicial review brought by Good Law Project (GLP) challenging the failure of HMRC to raise a ‘protective assessment’ on Uber (the interested party) in relation to VAT. GLP claimed that HMRC appreciated that Uber may be liable to account for VAT, or that there was a risk of underpaid VAT, and argued that HMRC should raise a protective assessment, in order to avoid each successive VAT period becoming time-barred.

The issue was whether HMRC should disclose whether it had raised a protective assessment against Uber. The court referred to the extensive case law on taxpayer’s confidentiality, and particularly Ingenious Media [2016] 1 WLR 4164. It noted that ‘there is necessarily a balance in this case between the importance of open justice and that of maintaining taxpayer confidentiality’. It added that the balance had been struck by Parliament in s 18(2)(c). This subsection provides that the prohibition on disclosure does not apply where the disclosure is made for the purpose of civil proceedings.

The court therefore rejected the argument that the test in s 18(2)(c) was one of necessity. ‘If Parliament had intended that there would be a test of necessity, then it is highly likely it would have said so.’ It added that Ingenious Media concerned s 18(1)(a) and that the language of that subsection is ‘vague’, whereas s 18(1)(c) refers ‘specifically’ to civil proceedings, ‘a discrete and well understood area of exception to principles of confidentiality’. Finally, the court observed that the intrusion into Uber’s confidentiality was ‘rather slight’.

Read the decision.

Why it matters: The High Court thought that it had not been necessary for HMRC to make this application. In the court’s view, if HMRC wished to give the taxpayer a chance to challenge the disclosure of confidential information, it should have given them advance notice so that they could apply for an order prohibiting the disclosure.

Also reported this week:

Issue: 1467
Categories: Cases