Full case report

Deloitte & Touche v Dickson & Others

Reference [2005] EWHC 721 (Ch)
Court Chancery Division

Judge Laddie J

Date of Judgment 29 Apr 2005


Summary

Breach of confidence – Injunction – Public Interest – Press statements – Article 10 – Article 8


Facts

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales received a complaint concerning the way in which Deloitte had carried out audit work on behalf of a client who referred the matter to the Joint Disciplinary Scheme (‘JDS’), a self-regulatory body for the accountancy profession. The ‘Executive Counsel’ of the JDS made a press statement in which the nature of the complaints was set out as well as the fact that a tribunal would investigate the complaints and publish its findings as a report. The press release was made available to an accountancy trade magazine. Deloittes were granted an interim injunction to restrain publication and argued for a final injunction on the basis that the JDS had acted in breach of its own rules and that any publication breached a duty of confidence owed by the JDS and the magazine to Deloittes.


Issue

Whether
(i) the JDS had a general power to issue press statements (other than as provided for under its own rules) or had acted ultra vires;
(ii) the press release contained confidential information and publication breached that obligation;
(iii) any duty of confidence was displaced by the public interest in accurate and informative press notices being issued by the JDS.


Held

(i) It was too restrictive a construction of the JDS rules and an impractical imposition on the powers of the Executive Counsel and Executive Committee to prohibit press releases other than in the circumstances expressly provided for in the rules.
(ii) A general power to make press statements accorded with the JDS objective of promoting the highest possible standards of professional and business conduct.
(iii) All information conveyed by the Claimants to the Executive Counsel was to be treated as confidential whether or not it was sensitive or important.
(iv) Material published in the press statement derived from the Executive Counsel’s decisions and was not the same as the confidential information that had been communicated to him by the Claimant. Accordingly the confidence claim failed.
(v) The balancing exercise fell in favour of publication of a press notice containing limited confidential information as it would ultimately result in it being more accurate and less harmful.


Comment

The Court undertook a careful balancing exercise of the competing interests of confidentiality and freedom of expression. Ultimately the very narrow scope of the information that was confidential and the fact that its disclosure caused the Claimants no harm influenced the judge to dismiss the claim.


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Instructing Solicitors

Freshfields for the Claimant, Stephenson Harwood for D1-3 and DMA Legal LLP for D4