A TV entertainer and performer – known only as Mr D – has lost an application for anonymity in a first-tier tax tribunal.
The ballad of Mr D, a celebrity more accustomed to the gossip magazines than AccountingWEB, challenged the confidentiality of tax tribunals: would the appellant’s right to privacy be infringed because of the media attention this case could cause?
Mr D, who is still anonymised in case the decision is appealed, performs on screen and stage, models and writes, and has a public profile in the UK and abroad.
The entertainer claimed his celebrity status in the case would attract paparazzi attention and potentially affect an ongoing libel case with his famous ex-wife, and the media coverage of the evidence could inhibit him in giving evidence.
The HMRC enquiry
The tribunal stems from an HMRC investigation into the mysterious celebrity’s 2010-11 tax return.
The original case in question centres on the deductibility of two expenses: legal fees used to challenge allegedly libellous comments his famous ex-wife made on TV and in print, and £15,055 worth of improvements to his security gates claimed as annual investment allowance.
Mr D said the deductibility of professional services was essential to maintain his public image, as the libel case concerned aspects of his relationship with his stepson. While the gates, he claimed, were necessary to protect him and his family from media and fan attention.
HMRC challenged these expense claims. The Revenue was not satisfied by the legal expenses being considered as “for the purpose of trade” and the appellant’s reputation is not “a wholly business purpose”. As for the gates, HMRC did not find evidence to suggest the appellant was under any special threat to his security.
The case management hearing itself (TC05575) was held in public but was only attended by representatives for both sides.
Dismissing the private hearing request Judge Heidi Poon emphasised the importance of open justice. The fact HMRC has, seemingly, not opposed the application, forced the judge to repeat the warnings of Sir Christopher Staughton: “when both sides agree that information should be kept from the public, that was when the court had to be most vigilant.”
The entertainer’s representative argued that HMRC has agreed that there is “no pressing public interest” in the proceedings being conducted in public. However, the judge maintained that tax is “a subject of particular sensitivity” that nearly always gives rise to a wider public interest.
“The rules governing taxation directly affect the vast majority of taxpayers, and can be of a wider significance which is not immediately apparent.”
The appellant’s celebrity status did not convince the judge as justifying anonymity. Citing JIH v News Group, the judge said: “no special treatment should be accorded to public figures or celebrities: in principle, they are entitled to the same protection as others, no more or less.”
The unique circumstances of the appellant's celebrity status prompted the judge to comment on the media’s right to report the proceedings. The media’s right to report was deemed necessary, in recognition of justice being open to public scrutiny, and the role the media “as a conduit of information” which may be of public interest.
The judge concluded that the appellant’s defence did not reveal any compelling circumstances of the kind that can withstand the "vigour" that the court has to exercise when “scrutinising an application for an anonymity order”.
In refusing the appellant’s request, the judge said: “Anonymity can only be granted where it is strictly necessary.”
The fact Mr. D’s representation made no reference to any case law or statues disappointed AccountingWEB member Les Howard, who blogged about the case.
“I take the view that this severely weakened Mr D’s argument”, said Howard. “A failure to argue statute or case law in support of an argument is negligent.”