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HMRC internal manual

Information Disclosure Guide

Sharing information outside HMRC: sharing information with courts, tribunals and HMRC appeals: introduction

Court orders, witness summonses and subpoenas are formal demands for information issued by a Judge or Magistrate (or Sheriff in Scotland) and can relate to an individual, company or another organisation.  They can be issued against persons not directly involved in a partiuclar case and can also be issued against government department.

Court orders addressed to HMRC will generally ask you to release specific information but not all of them will compel you to do so.  However, where a court order meets certain requirements it should be complied with.

It is a criminal offence to disobey a court order which is binding on the person it is addressed to without good reason (‘contempt of court’)’.  It is therefore vital that you treat a request for information from a court with the highest priority.

You should inform your manager that an order from court has been received and take responsibility at the earliest stage to ensure that it is dealt with even if you are not the ‘specialist’ in the area, or your office is not responsible for the customer’s records. 

Any established and permanent member of HMRC staff can be authorised to disclose information to a court but they must first read and understand this guidance to ensure that the court order is valid.

Therefore you should:

  • take responsibility at the earliest stage to ensure that the request is dealt with, even if you are not the ‘specialist’ in the area or your office is not responsible for the customer’s records
  • familiarise yourself with the nature of the order or request you have received and inform your manager that a request from a court has been received
  • follow the guidance at IDG40530 to check whether a court order enables you to lawfully disclose the requested information
  • follow the guidance at IDG40570 for advice on how to respond to an informal request for information
  • treat the request as a high priority throughout.

You should not provide a court with confidential information unless you are satisfied that you have lawful authority to disclose.

Please note that the guidance given in this section excludes witness statements. Guidance on witness statements can be found at IDG40220.

Procedures

Who is permitted to provide the courts with information

Provided that the court has made the necessary order against HMRC, then any established and permanent member of HMRC staff can be authorised to disclose information. You must ensure that the matter is dealt with quickly and that your manager is kept fully informed.

If, after reading this guidance and discussing the matter with your manager, you are still unclear whether information should be provided to a court, you should contact your Data Guardian for further advice.

Child Benefit Office

If you work in the Child Benefit Office (CBO) all court related matters are dealt with by the CBO Customer Relations Unit.

If you work in the CBO and receive a formal request from a court, you should pass all correspondence sent by the court to this unit. Please see IDG80100 for contact details.

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Devolved administrations

This section applies to the courts throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland but there are differences in how courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland function.