The HTV West legal challenge to Bristol City
HTV West took Bristol City Council to
the High Court after the authority claimed the broadcasting company was not entitled
to view or take copies of its annual accounts.
team had attempted to inspect the financial records as part of an investigation
into the actions of a city landlord, whose activities were partly funded by the
The council refused to allow a reporter to view and copy particular
accounts during the statutory public inspection period, on the grounds that HTV
West was neither a voter, taxpayer nor a resident of the city.
also claimed that the media company did not have a legitimate
reason to inspect the material.
Bristol City Council tried to argue that
the public's rights to inspect the accounts were limited to a formal auditing
process, and that it was not proper for the documents to be gathered for a TV
But Mr Justice Elias ruled that councils can not make it their
business to decide how the information may be used.
He told Bristol
City Council that it had no right to
refuse a request for information because it disapproved of the purpose for which
the material was sought.
The TV company was under an obligation to make
sure that the information was used lawfully.
The Judge ruled that HTV
West was entitled to examine the accounts because it paid non-domestic business
rates which indirectly funded the council's grants from government.
But it was not entitled to view the accounts in the guise of acting as a public
'watchdog' on behalf
of viewers who lived in the city.
This does not necessarily mean that
requests must be made only by individual residents, voters and taxpayers.
That is because a 1934 case established that an agent
may be appointed to examine the accounts, on behalf of an individual or a group
of 'interested persons'.