As is well known, the great case of Tournier v National Provincial and Union Bank of England held that a bank owes a duty of confidentiality to its customers. The duty extends at least to information concerning account transactions and extends beyond the date of the termination of the banker customer contract. Information attained from other sources, like a credit agency, is also covered by the duty. The duty is not absolute for the bank may disclose information where the disclosure is under compulsion by law, where there is a duty to the public to disclose, where the interests of the bank require disclosure and where the disclosure is made by the express or implied consent of the customer.
Tournier had an overdraft with the defendant bank. He had made arrangements to make payments toward the reduction of the overdraft, but after only three installments ceased to make further payments. Tournier was the payee of a cheque drawn by Woldingham Traders Ld. Rather than deposit the cheque in his account with the defendant bank; he indorsed the cheque to a customer of the London City and Midland Bank. The defendant bank came to know about the cheque by virtue of the fact that Woldingham was a customer. Upon seeing the cheque presented for payment the manager rang the appropriate branch of the London City and Midland Bank to enquire as to the identity of their customer. It was learned that the endorsee was a bookmaker, a person who accepts and pays off bets.
The manager then rang the employers of Tournier and had conversations with two of the directors. The actual contents of that conversation are not clear, but it was alleged that the manager informed them that Tournier was having dealings with a bookmaker. As a consequence of that communication the employer refused to renew Tournier's contract of employment. Tournier sued both in defamation and for breach of contract. He lost at first instance and appealed with respect to both heads primarily on the grounds that the judge had instructed the jury erroneously.