Litigation and Arbitration Funding in Hong Kong: Will the UK Supreme Court decision in PACCAR Affect Hong Kong Litigation Funding?

In R. (on the Application of PACCAR Inc) v Competition Appeal Tribunal [2023] UKSC 28 (judgment handed down on 26 July 2023), the UK Supreme Court held that litigation funding agreements with third parties who play no part in the conduct of litigation, but who are to be paid a share of any damages recovered by the claimant, are “damages-based agreements” (or “DBAs”) within the meaning of the relevant UK legislation which regulates such agreements. Such agreements must therefore comply with the relevant regulatory regime and, if they do not, they are unenforceable under English law.

The likely effect of the UK Supreme Court’s decision is that most English law-governed third-party litigation funding agreements currently in place will be unenforceable, since participants in the litigation funding market have generally assumed that their agreements are not DBAs and therefore do not have to comply with the relevant regulatory regime. For an in depth coverage of the ruling see a full article by our London team. There is also an episode on this issue on our Commercial Litigation podcast. Continue reading

English High Court gives guidance on the so-called creditor duty where a company faces solvency-threatening claim

When a company is in the so-called “twilight zone” approaching insolvency, it is well-established that the directors’ fiduciary duties require them to take into account interest of creditors (the so-called “creditor duty”). In the recent decision of Stephen John Hunt v Jagtar Singh [2023] EWHC 1784 (Ch), the English High Court examined whether it is necessary to establish some form of knowledge (actual or constructive) of insolvency on the part of the directors for the creditor duty to arise, or whether the fact of insolvency is sufficient to trigger the duty.

The creditor duty was recently considered by the UK Supreme Court (“UKSC”) in BTI v Sequana [2022] UKSC 25 (see our previous update here). In that case, the UKSC confirmed the existence of the creditor duty and gave important guidance on the scope of a director’s duty to have regard to the interests of creditors. The UKSC nonetheless did not reach consensus on whether knowledge of the directors that the company is insolvent or bordering on insolvency is an essential element for creditor duty to arise. Continue reading

Can you petition for winding up if your debt is subject to arbitration? The debate continues

Following the Court of Final Appeal’s landmark decision in Guy Lam, Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance (the “Court”) considers that winding-up petitions can be stayed by reason of ongoing cross-claims that are the subject of an arbitration clause

Recently, the Court of Final Appeal confirmed that a Hong Kong bankruptcy petition should generally be stayed or dismissed if the debt in question is subject to a non-Hong Kong exclusive jurisdiction clause. Our discussion on this landmark decision of Guy Kwok-Hung Lam v Tor Asia Credit Master Fund LP [2023] HKCFA 9 can be found here.

Since then, the application of the principles Guy Lam has been considered by the Court of First Instance in the context of a winding up petition, which we have written about here. In that case Linda Chan J took the view that the approach in Guy Lam did not apply where, instead of a non-Hong Kong exclusive jurisdiction clause, there is an arbitration clause. Continue reading

Not “worthless window dressing”: Hong Kong Court declares keepwell deeds are enforceable contractual obligations

In two remarkably similar cases, Re Peking University Founder Group Company Limited [2023] HKCFI 1350 (the “Peking University Case”) and Re Tsinghua Unigroup Co., Ltd [2023] HKCFI 1572 (the “Tsinghua Case”), the Hong Kong Court affirmed the enforceability of keepwell deeds entered into by PRC companies as credit enhancement for bonds issued by their respective offshore subsidiaries. The Court recognised that although keepwell deeds are not guarantees, they are still enforceable contractual obligations that provide additional security to bondholders. However, both cases illustrate that keepwell deeds are sensitive to supervening events and subject to approval from relevant PRC authorities, particularly where the keepwell provider enters into reorganisation proceedings in the PRC.
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In Re Leading Holdings Group Limited [2023] HKCFI 1770, the Hong Kong Court has made it clear for the first time that, based on a construction of the contractual documentation, investors with an indirect participation in notes issued by a company have no standing to petition for winding up of the issuer, despite their obvious commercial interest in the credit of the issuer. Continue reading

The Hong Kong Court reiterates that a company remains only a nominal party in unfair prejudice petitions fought between its shareholders

Unfair prejudice petitions are a means for minority shareholders to seek redress against a shareholder said to be in control of the company, on the basis that the latter has caused the company’s affairs to be conducted in a manner that is unfairly prejudicial to their interests as minority shareholders. Since such petitions do not involve claims against the company itself, the company is just a nominal party and should not ordinarily participate or expend its funds in a partisan way in those proceedings.

Recently, this position was reiterated in the case of Glory Sky Asia Limited & Ors v Koo Kam Pui & Anor [2023] HKCFI 1849 in which the Court of First Instance stated that the Court’s starting point is a “rebuttable distaste” for a company’s participation in unfair prejudice proceedings and “initial scepticism” as to its necessity or expediency. In considering whether the Company’s participation and expenditure is proper, the test is whether it is “necessary” or “expedient in the interests of the company as a whole“. The onus would be on the company to satisfy the Court with evidence of the necessity or expedience and is no doubt a heavy one. Continue reading

English High Court reaffirms decision not to allow activists to proceed with derivative action against Shell

In our recent blog post, we discussed the English High Court’s decision to block the shareholder derivative action commenced by an activist shareholder, ClientEarth, against Shell’s directors. The English High Court found that ClientEarth did not have a prima facie case against Shell’s directors.

While this previous decision was made on the papers, ClientEarth invoked its rights under the English civil procedures to request the Court reconsider its decision at an oral hearing. Following an oral hearing, the English High Court reaffirmed its earlier decision on 24 July 2023: ClientEarth v Shell plc [2023] EWHC 1897 (Ch). While part of the judgment concerned certain technical details at the permission stage of a derivation action under English law, the following points may be of interest to Hong Kong readers: Continue reading

Lessons from the Hong Kong Court on the fixed and floating charge distinction

Valuable lessons can be learnt from the Hong Kong Court of First Instance’s (“CFI“) recent decision in Bei Ni Ltd v Cornwell (Hong Kong) Limited [2023] HKCFI 1799. The CFI was confronted with the question of whether a charge over shares in a margin account was a fixed charge or a floating charge.

The CFI held that the key question was whether the proceeds were held for the benefit of the chargee.

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Companies Court holds register of members is not conclusive evidence of share ownership and rectification is not an automatic right

Section 633(1) of the Companies Ordinance allows a person or a member of the company to apply to the Court to request a rectification of the register of members if a name is entered or omitted from the register without sufficient cause or where a person ceases to be a member. The Companies Court (“Court“) in Shi Jiu Xing v Hong Kong A-Sun Group Co Ltd and Others [2023] HKCFI 1852 held that a rectification application under section 633(1) of the Companies Ordinance was subject to the Court’s discretion. The Court also confirmed that, in Hong Kong, the Court continues not to treat the register of members as conclusive evidence and is entitled to consider all relevant facts and circumstances.

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UK Supreme Court clarifies the scope of Quincecare duty for financial institutions executing customer payments

Earlier this month, the UK Supreme Court in Philipp v Barclays Bank UK plc [2023] UKSC 25 addressed the scope of the Quincecare duty in the context of an “authorised push payment” (APP) fraud, where the victim was tricked into willingly authorising the bank to transfer funds into an account controlled by the fraudster. Continue reading