Mr Dowen had applied to Nottinghamshire Council to inspect and take copies of documents relating to an £850m waste management contract between the Council and Veolia. The disputed documents comprised schedules to the contract and monthly invoices submitted to the Council by Veolia, which Veolia sought to prevent the Council from making available for inspection.
The issue before the Court was whether the documents fell within the category of "books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts" "relating to" "the accounts to be audited".
Veolia argued that a wide interpretation of s.15(1) would lead to confidential information being disclosed. However, Mr Justice Cranston stated:
The concern about commercial confidentiality I can well understand...But the plain fact is that there is no duty to keep commercial confidentiality in section 15...In my view the express provision for confidentiality in section 15(3) in the case of personal information suggests that commercial confidentiality is to be ignored in the interpretive exercise. The reality is that in recent times Parliament has addressed the issue of confidentiality in relation to section 15 and has not considered it necessary to extend it to commercial cases such as the present.He concluded:
Accounts are not defined but the 1998 Act indicates that they are the record of the Council’s financial activity over a period and of the financial position at a particular time. The statement of accounts is a summary of the accounts. In my view it is plain that each of the disputed documents relate to the Council’s accounts as that phrase is to be construed in its statutory context. In the result Mr Dowen is entitled to inspect and copy these documents.Mr Dowen was represented by Friends of the Earth. The FoE press release is here.
The judgement itself is here.