The Board of the Privy Council has allowed an appeal in relation to the application of the so-called “reflective loss” principle, confirming that the rule falls to be assessed as at the point in time when a claimant suffers loss and not at the time proceedings are brought Primeo Fund v Bank of Bermuda (Cayman) Ltd & Anor (Cayman Islands) [2021] UKPC 22.

As a reminder, the Supreme Court in Sevilleja v Marex Financial Ltd [2020] UKSC 31 confirmed (by a 4-3 majority) that the reflective loss principle is a bright line legal rule, which prevents only shareholders from bringing a claim based on any fall in the value of their shares or distributions, which is the consequence of loss sustained by the company, where the company has a cause of action against the same wrongdoer (see this blog post).

On the facts of the present case, the claimant suffered loss arising from a breach of obligation by a wrongdoer before it became a shareholder in a company. However, by the time the claimant brought its claims, it had become a member of the relevant company, which had its own claim for the same loss against the same wrongdoer. It was common ground that if the company succeeded in its claims, it would fully restore the value of the shares in the company held by the claimant. However, the Board found that the claimant’s claims were not barred by the reflective loss principle. It emphasised that the reflective loss rule is not a procedural rule, concerned only with the avoidance of double recovery, but must be applied as a substantive rule of law, focusing on the nature of the loss, which must be assessed at the time the loss is suffered.

This is a helpful clarification of the correct approach to the issue of timing. Since Marex, there have been conflicting decisions as to whether the rule against reflective loss will apply to a former shareholder, who is no longer a shareholder in the relevant entity at the time the claim is commenced. In particular, there has been a lot of focus in some quarters on a decision by Flaux LJ as a single judge of the Court of Appeal in relation to an application for permission to appeal in Nectrus Ltd v UCP plc [2021] EWCA Civ 57. In Nectrus, Flaux LJ held that the claim of an ex-shareholder was not barred by the reflective loss principle, finding that the rule should be assessed when the claim is made.

The decision of the Board in Primeo Fund has put this question beyond doubt, expressly confirming that a shareholder which suffers a loss in the form of a diminution in value of its shareholding which is not recoverable as a result of the application of the reflective loss rule, cannot later convert that loss into one which is recoverable simply by selling its shareholding. The Board said that to find otherwise would lead to very “odd results”. While decisions of the Privy Council are not binding on English courts, they are regarded as having great weight and persuasive value (unless inconsistent with a decision that would otherwise be binding on the lower court). Given the questionable precedent value of Nectrus and the constitution of the Board of the Privy Council in Primeo Fund, it is highly likely that the decision in Primeo Fund will be followed by the Court of Appeal the next time this issue arises in an English case.

For more information see this post on our Banking Litigation Notes blog.