Welcome!

To all those reading this I am David Gibbs; I am a Lecturer in Company and Commercial Law at the University of Hertfordshire.

I created this blog as a general out-let of ideas for my research, as well as keeping those interested up-to-date on my research and general interests.

I completed my PhD thesis at the University of East Anglia in 2014. The thesis was recommended for the award of PhD with no corrections. My external examiner was Prof. Simon Deakin (Cambridge) and internal examiner was Prof. Morten Hviid.
My PhD research centred on directors' duties and company law. The thesis was titled 'Non-Executive Self-Interest: Fiduciary Duties and Corporate Governance'. It was a doctrinal and empirical study on whether self-interest was suitably controlled amongst non-executive directors.

My supervisors were Prof. Mathias Siems, Prof. Duncan Sheehan, Dr. Sara Connolly and Dr. Rob Heywood

All opinions of any existing or future blogpost are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of any of my associated institutions.
ORCID 0000-0002-6596-8536


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Thesis: A wordle


Now my thesis is typed up I thought a wordle would be a good way to sum it up.

Unsurprisingly, to me at least, the common words appearing are company, director, non-executive and fiduciary. The last word fiduciary links with the most popular case cited of Bristol and West Building Society v Mothew [1998] Ch. 1.

I look forward to submitting this now! 

Friday, 6 December 2013

New publication

I have recently had published my book review of two key textbooks on company law. The review can be found via the following citation:

D Gibbs, 'David Kershaw, Company Law in Context: Text and Materials' (2013) 47(3) The Law Teacher 433

The review covers Kershaw's textbook as well as the 29th Edition of Mayson French and Ryan's (links to 30th edition) textbook on company law.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries

The Law Commission has published its Consultation Paper regarding 'Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries'. I blogged about the project initially here. The consultation paper and a summary can be found here and here respectively.

The consultation paper, according to para 1.1, sets out to: '... investigate how the law of fiduciary duties applies to investment intermediaries and evaluate whether the law works in the interests of end investors'.

I have only given it a cursory read so far but have initial observations in regards to defining of terms such as fiduciary - however, it is noted that the consultation now seems to have gone wider than fiduciary duties of investment intermediaries in to duties generally of investment intermediaries (see paras 9.15, 14.62 and 14.64). Fiduciary duties prevent any self-interest in the performance of the undertaking. The duty moulds itself to the particular undertaking of the financial intermediary to temper any self-regard in respect of that undertaking. Thus, if they act or omit to act because they are personally interested in what they are doing for their principal, any benefit obtained will be held for the principal. In short all other interests to the undertaking of the fiduciary (financial intermediary) must be subservient to the interests of the principal.

This seems as though it would be in the interests of end investors that there interests are placed first and the fiduciary must remove any self-interest or otherwise before acting. The principal's interests are therefore exclusive. It may be that the specific duties of the financial intermediary are not beneficial to the interests of the investors, which is why I think the consultation is now looking at duties generally, but first impressions would suggest that fiduciary duties are not the issue. However, continued recommendations on fiduciary duties would need a closer consideration regarding the defining of terms and when such a duty is owed.

 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

ODL Securities Ltd v McGrath [2013] EWHC 1865 - fiduciary duties

This case of ODL Securities Ltd v McGrath [2013] EWHC 1865 concerned "fiduciary duties" owed by a head of risk for a company. At [17] it was said that 'Although not a director of ODL, Mr McGrath was in a closely analogous position and, as such, in my judgment owed the same fiduciary duties as he would if he had been a director. These duties encompass a duty to disclose matters which it was in the interests of ODL to know, including where appropriate ... his own misconduct'.

This post expresses concerns about the number of potential issues with this statement in respect of fiduciary duties.

1) Describing Mr McGrath's position as analogous to that of a director is particularly unhelpful in respect of fiduciary duties owed by individuals. Reasoning by analogy has been described as dangerous (see Ranson v Customer Systems plc [2012] EWCA Civ 841 at [24]) since the extent or scope of one's fiduciary duties differs from case to case. To describe the head of legal risk and directors as analogous is unhelpful in determining someone's fiduciary liability.

2) The wording says that because the positions of director and head of legal risk are analogous to one another then Mr McGrath owed the same fiduciary duties as if he was a director. The issue here is that all fiduciaries owe the same duty. The duty of loyalty is universal to all fiduciaries (Bristol and West Building Society v Mothew [1998] Ch. 1, 17-18, Plus Group Ltd v Pyke [2002] EWCA Civ 370 at [80]). Whether the fiduciary is a solicitor, trustee, parent, director, partner they all owe the duty of loyalty which is the defining feature of a fiduciary relationship. The premise needs to be whether Mr McGrath owed the duty of loyalty and not simply that he owed the duty because his position was similar to that of a director. A director as a fiduciary will owe the same fiduciary duties as a head of legal risk because they are both fiduciaries.

3) The duty of loyalty is designed to regulate the problem of opportunism where one has access to another's property and affairs for the exclusive benefit of that person. It prevents the fiduciary from obtaining an unauthorised benefit from their position that would conflict with the interests of the principal. Best interests are wider than this. It is possible to not act for the best interests of the principal without being personally conflicted. As Millet LJ explained in Mothew at [18] in respect of the duty to act with reasonable skill and care that 'mere incompetence is not enough [to breach your fiduciary duty]. A servant who loyally does his incompetent best for his master is not unfaithful and is not guilty of a breach of fiduciary duty'. Thus, there is only a breach if that incompetence is based on a conflict of interest. The same applies to the duty to act in the company's best interests. It would have been accurate of Flaux J to say Mr McGrath owed similar duties to that of a director, but not fiduciary duties. As Millet LJ said in Mothew at [16] 'unless the expression [fiduciary] is so limited it is lacking in practical utility'.

As another note this confusion with respect of fiduciary duties is also noted earlier at paragraph [15] where Flaux J describes a duty to disclose as part of a duty to avoid a conflict.

4) Equally the duty is proscriptive in that it bans conflicts of interest. It is not prescriptive in requiring positive action on behalf of the fiduciary. Therefore saying there is a fiduciary duty to disclose misconduct is mudding the waters of fiduciary jurisdiction.

5) The normal remedy for a breach of fiduciary duty is for the fiduciary to disgorge any personal benefit derived from the conflict and have it held on trust for the beneficiary who has a proprietary right to the benefit obtained. Simply failing to disclose misconduct, would potentially breach the duty to act in the best interests of the company if it was its best interests to know as was the case in Item Software v Fassihi [2004] EWCA Civ 1244 which was cited at paragraph [17] in this case. But the appropriate remedy was not to disgorge the benefit because there is no benefit to disgorge. It is possible a claim may be brought for equitable compensation (and indeed was the case here) if causation can be established between failure to disclose misconduct and harm done to the company but this is not like strict liability for breach of fiduciary duty which would simply require the disgorgement of the benefit once it is established that there was a conflict.

The facts concerned Mr McGrath who made a series of commercial loans who knew, at all materials times, was not the business of ODL. The loans were made by Mr McGrath of ODL to a company, or connected to a company, called A1 Holdings Ltd, which Mr Clements was personally interested in and a substantial creditor and shareholder; but Mr Clements was also the person who operated ODL's separate corporate finance business. When A1 Holdings Ltd went in to administration, Mr Clements was owed in excess of £3m. ODL sought equitable compensation/damages for the unauthorised loans made to A1 Holdings.

Some of the loans made were made without security, one was made to a company ran by a man Mr McGrath had only just met, and one was made with a promise of a personal payment of $1m to Mr McGrath from A1 Holdings. It is difficult to see how the failure to disclose his misconduct in authorising such loans that he was not authorised to make would be a breach of fiduciary duty. It is clearly a breach of the company's best interests to not disclose because the loans on any objective assessment were unlikely to be repaid, exposed the company to more risk when it was its business to be exposed to less risk, and it was not the nature of the company to make such loans. But without a conflict of interest it is not a breach of fiduciary duty, and even with the conflict in the third loan as to the personal benefit offered to Mr McGrath it is not the failure to disclose that gives rise to the breach of fiduciary duty but the benefit itself.

The judgment makes a series of references to dishonesty and fraud to demonstrate that Mr McGrath knew the loans were not in the interests of the company and had breached his fiduciary duty. This does nothing to add to his fiduciary liability. Liability is strict. Once there is a conflict, liability is established. It does not have to be established that the fiduciary acted fraudulently, dishonestly, acted in bad faith or did not try their hardest, for example. The fact he was dishonest and/or fraudulent in hiding the unauthorised loans did not matter. The loan where he was offered a personal benefit evidenced a conflict and he would have been in breach whether he honestly believed to be acting for the interests of the company or not. This is not to say the dishonesty and fraud does not demonstrate his breach of duty of care or best interests, but as stated, these are not fiduciary duties.

Therefore it seems in respect of breaches of fiduciary duty, Mr McGrath would have only done so in respect of those loans in which he was offered a personal benefit since he acted opportunistically for his own benefit creating the risk that he would not be loyal to the interests of ODL. The other loans, whilst breaches of his duty of care and duty to act in the best interests of the company, were not fiduciary breaches.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Derivative Claims: Where are we part II


Summer is over and I have not blogged in a while due to several holidays! I thought I would start back light with some information on UK derivative claims. Below is a table of all 14 cases brought in England and details of the significant relevant issues that were addressed by the court in applying its discretion as to whether a claim should be allowed to proceed. (see end for full citations of claims)

NB: whilst I am familiar with these cases the table below may not detail all factors considered but only those that were of significance. 

Case Name
Dismissed For/Allowed
Significant Circumstances Considered
Bamford
Dismissed at court’s discretion
Wrongdoer control
Cinematic Finance
Dismissed at court’s discretion
Majority bringing derivative claim; wrongdoer control; side-stepping insolvency rules
FanmailUK
Case adjourned
Case adjourned
Franbar
Dismissed at court’s discretion
Strength of legal claims; ratification; alternative remedy
Hughes
Permission granted
Strength of legal claims; ratification; alternative remedy
Iesini
Mandatory Bar
Weak legal claims
Kleanthous
Dismissed at court’s discretion
Independent review of whether litigation was beneficial; strength of legal claims; alternative remedy; and benefit would be small
Kiani
Permission granted
Failure of defendant to produce any evidence to the contrary; alternative remedy
Mission Capital
Dismissed at court’s discretion
Alternative remedy; little weight to a claim for wrongful dismissal of a director
Parry
Permission granted
Strength of legal claims; ratification; good faith; alternative remedy
Phillips
Permission granted
Alternative remedy; matter of urgency case was brought to recover sums taken from the company without good reason
Seven Holdings
Mandatory Bar
Claims did not relate to a breach of duty, care, negligence or default
Stainer
Permission granted
Strong grounds that there had been a breach of duty; strength of legal claims; disinterested shareholders deceived in to approving the loan
Stimpson
Mandatory Bar
The impact an action would have on the interests of the employees; claim of little value compared to cost of claim; legal claims were not realistically arguable


To raise a couple of points. Iesini is probably viewed as the most authoritative source for general interpretation of the new procedure as it has been cited in detail by most of the proceeding cases. 

A second point is that of the significance of the legal merits of a claim. Previously under the common law claim, a claim of fraud on the minority would be dismissed where legal merits did not meet a certain threshold. (see, for example, Law Commission Shareholder Remedies (Consultation Paper No 142 1996) paras 6.6, 14.1-4, 16.21; Law Commission Shareholder Remedies (Report Law Com No 246) (Cm 3769, 1997) para 6.4; Prudential Assurance Co Ltd v Newman Industries Ltd (No 2) [1982] Ch. 204; MacDougall v Gardiner (1875) 1 Ch. D. 13; Edwards v Halliwell [1950] 2 All E.R. 1064; Estmanco (Kilner House) Ltd v Greater London Council [1982] 1 W.L.R. 2).

Reform wished to do away with having claims assessed on their legal merits and allow claims based on all relevant circumstances (see Consultation Paper at para 16.22 and Report at para 6.73). However the Commission noted that it would be inappropriate to allow a completely hopeless claim to proceed (See, Commission Report Para 6.71). Thus whilst they wished to do away with having claims assessed on the legal merits it seems they still form part of the assessment.

The cases heard so far have taken differing views as to how significant the legal merits are to a claim. Franbar and Stimpson have dismissed claims on the basis, inter alia, that there was no obvious breach of duty and that claims were not realistically arguable. Iesini has said "something more" was needed when the court applies its discretion than when deciding whether there is a prima facie case. Cases such as StainerHughes and Kleanthous have dissented from Iesini to the extent a claim has to show sufficient legal merit although it is considered by this author that these three cases did not carefully consider the wording of Iesini but the cases do raise interesting points on the assessment of legal merits to a claim. 

As a result, whilst the reform wished to remove claims being assessed on the merits it seems that this still forms a significant part of the court's discretion as to whether they will allow a claim to proceed. 

Bamford v Harvey [2012] EWHC 2858 (Ch); [2013] Bus. L.R. 589; Cinematic Finance Ltd v Ryder [2010] EWHC 3387 (Ch); Fanmailuk.com Ltd v Cooper [2008] EWHC 2198 (Ch); [2008] B.C.C. 877; Franbar Holdings Ltd v Patel [2008] EWHC 1534 (Ch); [2008] B.C.C. 885; Hughes v Weiss [2012] EWHC 2363 (Ch); Iesini v Westrip Holdings Ltd [2009] EWHC 2526 (Ch); [2010] B.C.C. 420; Kleanthous v Paphitis [2011] EWHC 2287 (Ch); (2011) 108(36) L.S.G. 19; Kiani v Cooper [2010] EWHC 577 (Ch); [2010] B.C.C. 463; Mission Capital Plc v Sinclair [2008] EWHC 1339 (Ch); [2008] B.C.C. 866; Parry v Bartlett [2011] EWHC 3146 (Ch); Phillips v Fryer [2012] EWHC 1611 (Ch); [2013] B.C.C. 176; Re Seven Holdings Ltd  [2011] EWHC 1893 (Ch); Stainer v Lee [2010] EWHC 1539 (Ch); [2011] B.C.C. 134; Stimpson v Southern Landlords Association [2009] EWHC 2072 (Ch); [2010] B.C.C. 387 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Majority Rule: But not as you know it

In company law those who hold the majority of shares "rule" the company. This has been the case since the court in Foss v Harbottle (1843) 2 Hare 46 recognised the principle. If the majority have made a decision to take or not take certain action, that will be respected. Even if they are yet to make a decision no minority shareholder can take that action because the proper person to do so is the company which is recognised as the majority shareholders.

However, all that seems to have changed with litigation decisions concerning derivative claims. Derivative claims are in place where a minority shareholder is allowed to enforce the company's rights because those in control of the company were the wrongdoers themselves. Therefore the majority who "rule" the company are not going to sue themselves. If the minority could not enforce the company's rights there would be a wrong without a remedy. However, whether it is the majority or minority bringing the action the proper claimant is still the company. 

Before 2006, wrongdoer control needed to be proved before a claim would be allowed to proceed to an action. If wrongdoer control could not be established by the minority then the fundamental principle of majority rule would be respected since the majority had not taken any decision as to whether to enforce. If the illegal act could be rectified by the majority then litigation is pointless because 'the ultimate end will be that a meeting will be held, and the majority wishes will be granted'. MacDougall v Gardiner (1975-6) L.R. 1 Ch. D. 13 CA

The Companies Act 2006 now provides a statutory procedure for bringing a derivative claim. The requirement that there is wrongdoer control is not mentioned as a bar to a claim.

Therefore the legislator has chipped away at a fundamental principle of company law that majorities rule the company and no minority can interfere with their decision or lack of one. The Act's procedure now allows a derivative claim to be brought by a shareholder in respect of an action vested in the company.

Such a fundamental shift away from established principles certainly deserves attention and the courts have so far offered some insight in three cases since 2006, see herehere and here. Looking forward I hope to draw some analogies with the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the reasons behind the reform to explain this shift. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Research Grant Approved

I recently applied for a research grant through the Social Science, Arts and Humanities Research Institute (SSAHRI). Seven awards were made by the Institute and I am pleased that I was awarded one of the grants. I shall be working on this project from September until July 2014. See here for details of the awards made.

The picture, of course, is some light relief.

Directors' Remuneration Reporting Regulations

A draft of the directors' pay regulations that is due to be laid before Parliament in the next couple of weeks can be found here.

When reading the following should be noted:

- There cannot be any further changes to the regulations, however, they may be required, as a result of the scrutiny process, to make some further drafting changes
- The regulations are still subject to Parliamentary approval

Part 3 is perhaps most welcoming for anyone researching remuneration as it introduces a single total figure for annual director remuneration.




Monday, 29 April 2013

Forthcoming publication

Between February and March I was working on a double book review of Mayson French and Ryan on Company Law (D. French, S. Mayson and C Ryan 29th edition) and Company Law in Context: Text and Materials (D. Kershaw 2nd edition). It is due to be published towards the end of the year in issue 47(3) of the Law Teacher: The International Journal of Legal Education.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Law Commission on Fiduciary Duties of Investment Intermediaries

The Law Commission has published information about a new project on fiduciary duties of investment intermediaries. Consultation will take place in 2013 Oct. It can be seen here.

The statements they wish to address in relation to concern faced by stakeholders in the interpretation of fiduciary duties in this context are the following, which I will give a brief answer to (in brackets), but I must note I am not an expert on what an investment intermediary does.

  • it was not clear who in the investment chain was subject to fiduciary duties and what those duties were; (anyone with access to another's property or affairs for their benefit in a relationship based on trust and confidence. The duty owed by fiduciaries is the duty of loyalty meaning do not act with a conflict of interest in respect of the matters you agreed (whether expressly or through assumption) to be loyal)            

  • their fiduciary duties required them to maximise returns over a short-time scale, precluding consideration of long-term factors which might impact on company performance; (concern must be placed here whether it is right to classify this as a fiduciary duty to maximise returns, this is probably more accurately described as a function of an investment intermediary but not a fiduciary duty)        
  •      
  • their obligations were entirely defined and limited to their contractual obligations or required no more than a duty of care. (If they have access to another's property or affairs for their benefit then fiduciary duty of loyalty arises. That duty's standard is strict but its scope is circumscribed to the extent of what you agreed to be loyal to. Equity needs something to cling to. It cannot change the terms of a contract. The fiduciary must be loyaly and their interests must be subserviant to that of the principal/beneficiary on those matters agreed to be loyal to).

  • I have not blogged in a while. Hopefully now teaching is drawing to a close there will be some more regular updates. Hopefully I will return to this at a later date.

    Thursday, 10 January 2013

    Higher Education Professional Development

    So, new year and straight back in to the thick of it on the 2nd Jan for a 3-day course on teaching and learning in Higher Education as part of my postgraduate certificate.

    As part of the course we did some microteaching which was filmed. The slides can be seen here and the video here. The session time was capped to 7 minutes and to a lay audience. My session was on identifying who a director is. As the slides show it only focused on de facto and de jure directors and did not go in to shadow or nominee directors. Its main focus was the definition given to director under the Companies Act 2006, s. 250 and the courts interpretation.

    Unfortunately, the questions after the session were not recorded but demonstrated a benefit of face-to-face teaching of instant feedback. Being asked the question as to whether it matters if you call yourself a director as to identifying one, not only gave the opportunity to explain that point clearly but would allow for the session to be tweaked accordingly for the future. For those wondering, it does not matter whether an individual is called a director as to whether they are. What matters is whether they assumed responsibility for the company.

    On my own session, I was able to reflect a little on myself. It was suggested that I engage more with the audience. However, from a lecture perspective I have always preferred to avoid direct student engagement with a big class or at least avoid verbal interaction in a lecture. I have always sought to seek student engagement in skills sessions and workshops where I allow for more diverse teaching styles such as group work or student led teaching, for example.

    Moving on, ideally for lectures I would have a clicker to change slides and move a bit more so the technology slightly restricted movement in the session.

    A note on my fellow presentees from the microteaching session, they were all excellently delivered, a great opportunity to learn something new and to view different teaching styles.

    Friday, 4 January 2013

    Publication in ICCLR

    I have a new publication in the International Company and Commercial Law Review. It is just a short case note due to the slightly limited time I have available at the moment. Christmas was not long enough this year...

    Anyway, the note was on the recent Court of Appeal decision in Chandler v Cape [2012] EWCA Civ 525 see here for an earlier blog post. The publication can be found under D Gibbs 'Company Law: Corporate Groups' [2013] 24(1) ICCLR N8.

    I will be uploading a blog post next week on a recent presentation I gave at the Teaching and Learning module I have been on as part of my continuing professional development.