Earlier this year I discussed the importance of good corporate governance following the decision in Stobart Group v Tinkler. Paramount to good corporate governance is the adherence to the directors’ duties, whether contractual or fiduciary. Given the inherent lack of tangibility of any duties with a fiduciary persuasion, directors can often be found wanting when trying to quantify and qualify the positions where such duties might be owed to their shareholders.
Justice Jacobs sitting in the High Court has provided the following keen observations which will go some way to assisting directors and shareholders unsure of whether one exists. Whilst presiding over Vald. Nielsen Holding A/S, Newwatch Limited v Mr Victor Baldorino, Mr Richard Bennett and Mr Julian Mantell, Jacobs J reviewed a number of key authorities from English, Australian and New Zealand precedents. The claim in question was that the shareholders of a newco set up to facilitate a management buy-out were misled by the directors of the company and consequently sold to the newco at an undervalue. They claimed this was a breach of fiduciary duty.
Where a fiduciary relationship exists, the remedies for a breach of such a relationship can be onerous and far out weight those granted where just a contractual relationship is found. This guidance should therefore be noted.
Jacobs J posited the following:
Given the above, Jacobs J found the relationship in Vald. Nielsen Holding A/S v Baldorino to be some way off one of a fiduciary one. Whilst this guidance from Jacobs J is useful and helps to clarify when a duty might exist, this remains a distinctly grey area of the law. Furthermore, we will have to wait and see how this decision is used by other Justices.