Part 7 of the Companies Act 1989 modifies general insolvency law to provide systemic protection for certain financial markets in the event that one of their participants defaults. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of financial markets, the Act allows for these provisions to be updated by regulations and this consultation concerns proposals for such an update. Central counterparty clearing, which is the main focus of Part 7, is increasingly recognised as a vital element of market infrastructure, helping to guarantee transactions and produce efficiencies of risk management. In November 2004 the IOSCO (International Organization of Securities Commissions) and the Group of Ten central banks produced recommendations for the operation of central counterparties. The amendments proposed here are in accord with those recommendations, and with the recent proposal by the EU Commission to update the Settlement Finality Directive in line with latest market and regulatory developments, including the increased interoperability of systems".
Thursday, 31 July 2008
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
 The Limited Liability Partnerships (Accounts and Audit) (Application of Companies Act 2006) Regulations 2008 - see here for the explanatory memorandum.
 The Large and Medium-sized Limited Liability Partnerships (Accounts) Regulations 2008 - see here for the explanatory memorandum.
Monday, 28 July 2008
Friday, 25 July 2008
In as much as business activities are conducted in the name of a partnership and the partnership has identifiable assets that are distinct from the personal assets of each partner there is no reason why a partnership should not be treated for the purposes of the criminal law as a separate entity from the partners who are members of it".
 The case has been reported on the BBC news website here, where the following comments of Solicitor-General Frank Mulholland QC are noted: "The prosecution of a dissolved partnership was previously unknown in Scots law. Today's decision of the Appeal Court has clarified the law in relation to the liability of a dissolved partnership for alleged crimes that occurred prior to it being dissolved. The Appeal Court has held that criminal liability does not rest with the former firm in its firm name".
Thursday, 24 July 2008
...governance procedures adopted by AIM companies vary widely. It is apparent that good governance is not necessarily a function of size of the company or its location, and it is hard to argue that the bigger the company on AIM, the better the governance. This survey shows that the composition of the Board is a particular area of weakness for many AIM companies. The need for strong independent non-executive director representation on the board appears to be something many AIM companies have yet to recognise. Perhaps linked to this, is the fact that only a fifth of the AIM Top 100 reported that they had assessed their Board effectiveness. This fell to only 5% of the smallest AIM companies in our sample. It remains to be seen whether the current voluntary approach to governance is a sustainable model for AIM, especially when the evidence of this survey shows a relatively limited application of best governance practices, across all segments of the market".
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
If there is no obligation on the Company in terms of the implied term contended for by the petitioner, it must follow that the Company is free to make commercial decisions in its own interests. The directors owe a fiduciary duty to the Company and complaints can be made against them if, in breach of that duty, they have regard to extraneous matters, such as a desire to benefit some other company. The court will not lightly infer from surrounding circumstances the existence of an understanding to which the Company should be held in equity and which would prevent it from making decisions in its best interests..."
The essence of that jurisdiction [Section 994] is that the affairs of the company have been conducted in a manner which is unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the petitioner as a member of the company. The petitioner's claim, as was stressed repeatedly in argument, is based on the fact that it had an accrued right to payment ... It seems to me to be arguable that the prejudice which the petitioner has suffered, if it be prejudice, is as a seller of shares rather than as a member of the company. In response to this argument, I was referred on behalf of the petitioner to the case of Gamlestaden Fastigheter AB v Baltic Partners Limited  4 All ER 164. In that case a shareholder claimed under the Jersey equivalent of section 459 on the basis that he was a creditor, and would not have advanced sums to the company but for having been a shareholder. This, it was argued, illustrated the width of the jurisdiction. Those facts are, of course, the reverse of the present circumstances ..."
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Some EU countries are known to be unhappy with particular aspects of the SPE proposals. The very low minimum capital requirement, for example, has not been greeted warmly by Germany or Austria, where critics claim that this could make it too easy for fly-by-night businesses to incorporate. So there is a possibility that more referrals to national laws could get added in as the statute makes its way through the legislative process. And that leaves many observers guarded about the SPE’s usefulness at this stage".
For further information see:
Monday, 21 July 2008
There is unlikely to be unanimous support for this proposal, not least because of the argument that the proposal (which is clearly designed to support financial stability) undermines the transparency of the market. The FSA nevertheless states in its consultation paper that its proposal is consistent with Article 3 of the European Market Abuse Directive (2003/124/EC) which recognises certain circumstances in which delayed disclosure can be justified. These circumstances are reflected in the current version of DTR 2.5.
 Miscellaneous Code Amendments (2008/2) - the Panel proposes amending Rules 2, 8, 9, 35 and 28. These amendments are intended to clarify the application of existing Code provisions or to codify existing practice in relation to matters which are not currently covered by the Code.
 Electronic Communications, Websites and Information Rights (2008/3) - the Panel proposes that the Code should be amended to:
- enable electronic forms of communication to be used to send documents and information to shareholders and certain other relevant persons;
- facilitate and require a wider use of websites by parties to offers; and
- ensure that persons nominated to enjoy “information rights” receive the same information as shareholders.
Friday, 18 July 2008
The shareholders of a Delaware corporation have the right “to participate in selecting the contestants” for election to the board. The shareholders are entitled to facilitate the exercise of that right by proposing a bylaw that would encourage candidates other than board-sponsored nominees to stand for election. The Bylaw would accomplish that by committing the corporation to reimburse the election expenses of shareholders whose candidates are successfully elected. That the implementation of that proposal would require the expenditure of corporate funds will not, in and of itself, make such a bylaw an improper subject matter for shareholder action".
... any possible circumstance under which a board of directors might be required to act. Under at least one such hypothetical, the board of directors would breach their fiduciary duties if they complied with the Bylaw. Accordingly, we conclude that the Bylaw, as drafted, would violate the prohibition, which our decisions have derived from Section 141(a), against contractual arrangements that commit the board of directors to a course of action that would preclude them from fully discharging their fiduciary duties to the corporation and its shareholders".
In December of last year we issued a statement noting that the risks to confidence in corporate reporting and governance were higher than they had been for some years and that this needed to be matched by additional diligence on the part of preparers of accounts, audit committees and auditors. Eight months on our warning remains in place and the text of our statement and the key questions which we suggested that audit committees should consider is worth re-reading".
The system constitutes a restriction on the free movement of capital inasmuch as it is capable of deterring investors established in other Member States other than Spain from acquiring shareholdings in Spanish undertakings operating in the energy sector and is therefore liable to prevent or limit the acquisition of shareholdings in those undertakings. Furthermore, this new system entails a restriction on the freedom of establishment. However, a system which entails such restrictions may be justified by reasons laid down in the EC Treaty or by overriding reasons in the public interest, such as public safety. To that end, the system has to satisfy certain conditions: that it is suitable for securing the attainment of the objective pursued and is proportionate to that objective".
... Spain has not shown that the system of prior authorisation which has been established is a measure that is suitable for securing the attainment of the objective sought by the Spanish legislature, that is, security of energy supply. In any event, the Court considers that the Spanish system of prior authorisation is not proportionate to the objective of ensuring security of energy supply. First, the system does not limit the NEC’s power to refuse to allow the acquisition of shareholdings or assets referred to above or to make subject them to certain conditions on the sole ground of securing the objective of security of energy supply ... Secondly, the Court finds that Spain has not demonstrated that the objective pursued may not be attained by less restrictive measures, in particular by a system of ex post declarations".
- There is to be no change to the current basis of liability (which is based on fraud).
- The liability regime should apply to [a] issuers of all securities admitted to trading on a UK regulated market or multilateral trading facility and [b] issuers of securities admitted to trading on an EEA regulated market or multilateral trading facility, where the UK is the home state for the issuer under the Transparency Directive (2004/109/EC) or the issuer has its registered office in the UK.
- The regime should apply to "transferable securities" as defined in Section 102A(3) of the Financial Services and Markets Act (2000).
Thursday, 17 July 2008
In the recent High Court judgment in relation to the offer for Expro International Group Plc, which was effected through a scheme, it was noted that it was not considered desirable for Court procedure to introduce a level of uncertainty into offers which the provisions of the Code had successfully eliminated. On this evidence, it does not appear that there is any current likelihood of the Courts playing a more active role in determining the outcome of offers".
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
The objective test sets the basic standard. It is no excuse for a director to say that, in fact, she did not have the general knowledge, skill or experience reasonably to be expected of a person carrying out her appointed functions. The subjective test potentially raises the standard by reference to any greater general knowledge, skill or experience which the particular director actually has. To that analysis may be added the principle, established for example in Re City Equitable Fire Insurance Company Limited  Ch 407 that, because of the essentially fiduciary nature of the office, a director is expected to apply to the management and custodianship of the company's property that same degree of care as she might reasonably be expected to apply in the management and custodianship of her own property".
The fiduciary nature of the office also affects the question whether, and if so when, resignation may be an appropriate response by a director to circumstances coming to her attention. Prima facie a director who no longer wishes to perform her duties, or who finds it impossible to do so, may properly resign; see Re Galeforce Pleating Co Ltd  2 BCLC 704, at 716 c-d. But a director who wishes to retire may nonetheless be required to take steps to deal before departure with a pressing matter calling for attention, or to put her continuing colleagues on the board in possession of information known to her relevant to the matter in question, so as to enable them to deal with it. Exceptionally, a director may upon departure be obliged to put relevant information in the hands of the company's shareholders or other stakeholders, if not satisfied that continuing colleagues on the board have the inclination or the ability to deal with a matter of concern".
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Just as we took action for banks - so too should we take the appropriate action to help all businesses in these difficult times. We want to make sure sound companies don't go into liquidation unnecessarily. Because we all know what liquidation normally means - closure. This isn't good for the companies, many of which are actually fundamentally sound. This isn't good for the banks, who lend these companies money. And it's not good for employees - who face being laid off. So what can we do? I can announce today that we will consult on taking the best aspects of the American Chapter 11 system and give good companies breathing space to allow them to rescue or restructure the business in the face of the credit crunch. This change will ensure that fewer good companies end up in liquidation - and fewer people lose their jobs through no fault of their own. But of course, we cannot - and should not save all companies that fail".
The Liberal Democrats' Treasury Spokesman, Vince Cable MP, has already offered criticism; in his view (published here):
Chapter 11 allows people who have mismanaged their companies to continue to run them free from their debt and pensions obligations. Chapter 11 not only rewards failure, but as the debacle of the US airline industry showed, it distorts the market and can be used as a cynical ploy for executives to weasel their way out of paying the pensions owed to their employees"
These comments do, of course, assume a great deal about the eventual form of any proposals developed by the Conservatives. The Financial Times newspaper reports that the Conservative Party's advisors
...have focused on three areas: an "automatic stay of enforcement" of debt by creditors, granted for a renewable period of a few months, while management stays and tries to negotiate a restructuring; priority funding for distressed companies, to whom lenders could give money in exchange for "super priority" over other unsecured creditors; and binding measures agreed by court and a majority of creditors to stop "unscrupulous" creditors from vetoing desirable restructurings".
In line with the wider Companies Act 2006 (the 2006 Act) implementation timetable, the overseas companies regulations (including the accounting provisions) will be commenced on 1 October 2009. These regulations are intended for use by both overseas companies with an existing UK branch or UK place of business, and overseas companies that register a UK establishment on or after 1 October 2009.
The regulations apply to overseas companies as defined in the 2006 Act. The Government’s approach to these companies remains the same as it was in December 2007 and the regulations have continued to be developed with the intention of minimising obligations on overseas companies while complying with European legislation, as well as ensuring that UK creditors will have access to transparent information about the business of such companies. This is particularly the case with regard to accounting provisions within the draft regulations, which we have developed further in response to comments received in light of the consultation".
This guidance refers primarily to the financial statements of commercial entities reporting in compliance with companies legislation and therefore intended to give a true and fair view. However, its principles can be applied more generally to financial statements prepared by other organisations (eg, charities, pension schemes, government departments, local authorities and public sector businesses), although the assessment of users’ needs may vary ... The principles set out in this guidance may also be relevant to other information, such as that provided in an operating and financial review, a business review, a half-yearly report, interim management statements, information about post balance sheet events or in corporate governance disclosures".
Monday, 14 July 2008
The principle of pre-emption has been a cornerstone of capital raising under UK company law for nearly 200 years. Shareholders need to know that they are protected from any unwelcome dilution in value or control of their investments. But public companies also need to be able to raise new equity cheaply and efficiently when it is required. Are the two now in conflict?
The UK's concept of pre-emption is one of the things which differentiates the UK equity market from many other jurisdictions, including the US. It is a source of strength, not weakness. But the outdated, complex, and lengthy processes of rights issues are seeing this approach to capital raising placed under attack, particularly from US investment banks".
There were seven cases where directors experienced some serious problem which delayed the submission of the accounts. These included bereavement, and illness. However, in none of these cases was the individual a sole director. All directors have equal responsibility to ensure that accounts are submitted on time. Where one director has primary responsibility for submitting accounts and some catastrophe overwhelms him or her, other directors must be prepared to step into the breach. It is apparent that some directors are that in name only, and are either unable or unwilling to act when it becomes necessary.I upheld one appeal. In this case, property developers had been the directors of a property management company. They had managed it so badly that Companies House had dissolved it. The residents of the property development were obliged to apply for the company to be reinstated because of restrictive covenants on their properties, incurring the late filing penalties of the previous directors. Whilst supporting the policy of Companies House that outstanding late filing penalties must stand when a dissolved company is reinstated, notwithstanding a change of directors, I considered the circumstances of this case to be exceptional as the residents had no choice but to reinstate the company, had been ill treated by the property developer, and had already incurred considerable expense".
Friday, 11 July 2008
Recommendation 1: As a matter of good practice, all organisations handling or sharing significant amounts of personal information should clarify in their corporate governance arrangements where ownership and accountability lie for the handling of personal information. This should normally be at senior executive level, giving a designated individual explicit responsibility for ensuring that the organisation handles personal information in a way that meets all legal and good-practice requirements. Audit committees should monitor the arrangements and their operation in practice.
Recommendation 2: As a matter of best practice, companies should review at least annually their systems of internal controls over using and sharing personal information; and they should report to shareholders that they have done so. The Combined Code on Corporate Governance requires all listed companies to review ‘all material controls, including financial, operational and compliance controls and risk management systems’ ... It would be surprising and worrying not to see information risks addressed explicitly in the Statements of Internal Control for such companies. We hope that bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry will develop guidance to help companies ensure their controls and disclosures are adequate. If approaches on these lines are not successful in improving high-level accountability for giving assurance on information risks, we would expect the Financial Reporting Council to intervene.
Thursday, 10 July 2008
In connection with cases of excessive severance payments, there were calls to shorten the term of management board contracts from five years to, say, three years. This would have limited the amount of potential several payments without introducing a severance payment cap. However, we came to the conclusion that the five-year term of office is the greater good - for reasons of planning and reliability alone, but also in the interest of a long-term corporate strategy. Only first time appointments should generally be made for a shorter term. Instead of shortening management board contracts, we introduced suggestions on the severance payment cap in 2007. At the start of this month we took this a logical stage further and upgraded the suggestions to recommendations. This means that non-compliance with this rule has to be disclosed in the annual declaration of conformity. This is transparency which will bear fruit in the long-term and change patterns of behaviour".
Berlin is poised to crack down on what it considers 'excessive' executive pay in a move that could curtail the use of stock options in Germany. The Christian Democratic Union of Chancellor Angela Merkel has set up a working group that will start work in September on concrete proposals. These are likely to include a tightening of corporate governance rules and corporate taxation possibly as soon as the end of this year. The proposals, to be finalised in the autumn, are likely to make it into law since the CDU has the support of its coalition partner the Social Democratic party. The CDU initiative is intended to target DAX-listed companies, but would also affect executives of foreign companies who live in Germany".
 In the UK, under Section 188 of the Companies Act (2006), directors' service contracts exceeding 2 years (or those with any fixed or rolling notice period exceeding 2 years) require shareholder approval. This provision applies to all companies.
 The UK Combined Code on Corporate Governance (June 2008) provides:
B.1.6 Notice or contract periods should be set at one year or less. If it is necessary to offer longer notice or contract periods to new directors recruited from outside, such periods should reduce to one year or less after the initial period.
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the measurement or calculation of greenhouse gas emissions to assist the reporting by persons on such emissions from activities for which they are responsible.
(2) The guidance must be published not later than 1st October 2009.
(3) The Secretary of State may from time to time publish revisions to guidance under this section or revised guidance.
(4) Before publishing guidance under this section or revisions to it, the Secretary of State must consult the other national authorities.
(5) Guidance under this section and revisions to it may be published in such manner as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
New Clause 7 - Report on contribution of reporting to climate change objectives
The SEC staff's examinations found that rating agencies struggled significantly with the increase in the number and complexity of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO) deals since 2002. The examinations uncovered that none of the rating agencies examined had specific written comprehensive procedures for rating RMBS and CDOs. Furthermore, significant aspects of the rating process were not always disclosed or even documented by the firms, and conflicts of interest were not always managed appropriately"
For further information see:
SEC Report | SEC press release | SEC proposals: June 11 and July 1 |
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
The Council welcomes the revision by IOSCO of its Code of Conduct at the international level, and CESR's and ESME's reports on rating agencies. The Council considers that the revisions to the IOSCO Code of Conduct provide a minimum benchmark for the actions that credit rating agencies should take to address concerns about their activities in the market for structured products. In this context, the Council takes note of the additional steps undertaken in this field by the rating agencies to better address the governance concerns and improve transparency concerning the value and limitations of the ratings.
However, the Council shares the Commission view that the current initiatives do not fully address the challenges posed, that further steps, are needed and that regulatory changes might be necessary. The Council supports the objective of introducing a strengthened oversight regime for rating agencies and notes in this regard the preliminary views by the Commission as well as the proposals by CESR and ESME. The Council supports an enhanced European approach and the objective of strengthening international cooperation to ensure a stringent implementation of internationally approved principles. To this end, and without prejudice to consideration of its practical application, the Council supports the principle envisaged by the Commission that the rating agencies should be subject to an EU registration system.
The Council would also welcome intensified competition by entry into the market of new players".
For comment, see this article in the Financial Times newspaper.
The complexity project will consider whether corporate reporting requirements are disproportionate to their intended benefits and whether there are opportunities for improvement. It will address the risk that these requirements, and related influential guidance, are contributing to the increasing complexity of corporate reports without making them more useful or understandable. The project will focus primarily on the ongoing mandatory corporate reporting requirements for UK listed companies. This includes the financial and narrative aspects of all interim, half-yearly and annual reports, but not offer documents. There is also acknowledgement of the need to keep an eye on voluntary reporting such as preliminary announcements and annual reviews to ensure the project is comprehensive in its analysis and findings"
Further information about the review is available here.
There is the issue of the need to review the role and use of credit ratings. CRAs significantly contributed to the market turmoil by greatly underestimating the credit risk of structured credit products. I requested the advice of the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR) and the European Securities Markets Expert Group (ESME) on the various aspects of CRAs' activity and their role in the financial markets.
The IOSCO Code of Conduct to which the rating agencies signed up has not produced the desired effects. I am certainly not persuaded that the appropriate response lies in strengthening the voluntary framework established by the IOSCO code. International convergence is desirable if it can be achieved – but per se, this is not enough. And let me make it clear, I do not believe that Europe should be in the passenger seat on this issue. We need to drive things forward and set the pace.
While some of the additional steps that the main rating agencies have announced are welcome, they are insufficient. This is one of many reasons why I have concluded that a regulatory solution at European level is now necessary to deal with some of the core issues.
It is my intention to propose in October a registration and external oversight regime for rating agencies, whereby European regulators will supervise the policies and procedures followed by the CRAs. Reforms to the corporate and internal governance of rating agencies will form a part as well. I will also try to strengthen competition by encouraging entry into the market by new players. The European Securities Markets Expert Group stressed the importance not just of governance of rating agencies, but also the importance of having an appropriate corporate culture as well.
In the proposals I will bring forward on credit rating agencies, I also want to ensure that supervisors who will have responsibility for oversight will have at their disposal sufficient resources and expertise to keep up with financial innovation and to challenge the CRAs in the right areas, on the right issues, at the right time".
- Risk management was seen as the top oversight priority for the year ahead.
- Nearly half of respondents said that the committee reported to the full board.
- One in four respondents said that their committee did not have a formal process in place to evaluate the external auditor.
- Over half of respondents expressed concern that the committee had been assigned (or had assumed) too much responsibility for risk oversight beyond financial reporting risk.
Monday, 7 July 2008
I have approached this application by the shareholders ... entirely on its own merits and in accordance with the established principles applicable to the consideration of schemes of arrangement. I nonetheless should say that I have concern that there should, if possible, be a common approach to the conduct of bids, whether they are structured as an offer or as a scheme. I would not think it desirable that the court procedure involved in a scheme should allow in an undesirable level of uncertainty which the provisions of the Code have successfully reduced or eliminated in the case of ordinary offers"