Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Focus on Confidential Information

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Focus on Confidential Information

Article excerpt

The latest scandal to complicate the lives of David and Victoria Beckham might not seem to have much immediate impact on the North-East business community, but any business that has signed a confidentiality agreement could end up like the Beckhams and find information it previously thought was private is soon in the public domain.

Paul Earnshaw, partner with Crutes Law Firm in Newcastle, says that businesses in the region should be taking steps to ensure that their transactions don't become public knowledge.

Confidentiality agreements have made national headlines recently with the Beckhams taking the News of the World to court to seek an injunction that would have stopped the newspaper publishing stories about their private lives. A former nanny of the couple, who had signed a confidentiality agreement as part of her contract, sold her story to the paper. The Beckhams failed, and the resulting headlines have not yet gone away, with much financial damage being inflicted on the value of the "Beckham brand" in the process.

However, it is not just celebrities who expect their details to be kept confidential. Businesses in the region could unexpectedly find financial details of their transactions becoming publicly available to their customers, employees and competitors. It is commonplace in company acquisitions for a confidentiality agreement to be required before a seller will disclose financial and commerc- ially sensitive information and it is also becoming increasingly common for a confidentiality agreement to be entered into in relation to property matters.

Obviously, the best protection is to disclose as little as possible to as few people as possible. However, this is easier said than done. In the business world, particularly in property transactions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep information secret. Property prices are recorded on the Land Register, a ream of information is provided on a Stamp Duty Land Tax form, more leases than ever before are registered with the Land Registry and, following the 2002 changes to Land Registry rules, they can be accessed by anyone, and the Freedom of Information Act which came into force at the start of this year is taking disclosure even further. …

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