Section 740 of the Companies Ordinance can be a powerful tool in assisting shareholders to obtain inspection of a company's documents. Two new cases demonstrate the continued use of Section 740 by shareholders to obtain inspection of corporate documents. While they show that the courts are generally willing to assist shareholders in appropriate cases, the courts will often rein in applications either by limiting the scope of the inspection or imposing conditions to the order granted.
There has been a number of recent cases in Hong Kong in which successful parties have been awarded their costs on a more generous basis against unsuccessful parties – known as an 'indemnity' basis (in contrast to what is commonly called a 'standard' or 'party and party' basis). A recent example in the Court of Appeal is Qiyang Ltd v Mei Li New Energy Ltd. One might be forgiven for sometimes thinking that orders for indemnity costs are a norm, but they are not.
First Asia Finance International Ltd v Tso Au Yim & Yeung appears to be another example of a misconceived claim against a defendant solicitors' firm. In this case, the court held that the solicitors owed no duty of care to the plaintiff company (which was not a client) with respect to the preparation of a settlement agreement. The plaintiff also failed with a claim that it had informally retained the defendant solicitors with respect to the drafting of the settlement agreement.
The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has cast a wide net with its use of civil proceedings pursuant to Section 213 of the Securities and Futures Ordinance. Recently, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal arising out of the SFC's use of Section 213 proceedings to obtain declarations that three defendants based in Hong Kong had contravened Section 300 of the ordinance by engaging in a deceptive course of business in transactions involving shares listed on an overseas stock exchange.
The Insurance Authority will begin to collect a levy from policyholders through premium payments to insurers from January 1 2018. Holders of life insurance policies and general insurance policies (eg, travel, motor, property and household) will be required to pay the levy; however, reinsurers, policies underwritten by captive insurers and marine, aviation and goods-in-transit businesses are exempt.
In Far Wealth Ltd v Lo Ki Mou the High Court dismissed the proceedings as an abuse of process because the plaintiffs could have protected their position by way of a counterclaim in prior proceedings commenced against them by the defendants. While fact specific, it is clear from the judgment that the court was exercising a wide discretion based on the "underlying objectives" of the court rules.
Hong Kong's Financial Dispute Resolution Scheme will be expanded with effect from January 1 2018 and July 1 2018 by amending the jurisdiction and terms of reference of the Financial Dispute Resolution Centre. Alongside the recent changes to allow third-party funding in arbitration, the changes to the scheme show that alternative dispute resolution is coming of age for financial disputes in Hong Kong where there is an imbalance of power between parties.
In Competition Commission v Nutanix Hong Kong Ltd a High Court judge recently considered the scope of the 'direct use prohibition' contained in Section 45(2) of the Competition Ordinance, which protects a person who is required to answer questions as part of an investigation by the Competition Commission pursuant to Section 42. The case decides that the protection does not extend to a third party, even where the third party is the subject of the commission's investigation.
Securities and Futures Commission v Sun Min is another recent example of the Securities and Futures Commission using Section 213(2)(b) of the Securities and Futures Ordinance to obtain restitution, in the form of so-called 'restorative' orders, on behalf of counterparties to impugned transactions. What is interesting about this particular case is that the judge expressed some concern as to whether the amount of restoration sought might result in a windfall for the counterparties involved.
Karla Otto Ltd v Bayram is another recent case that has its origins in misappropriated money being transferred from overseas to Hong Kong. The case took several years to get to trial and when it did, the defendants were absent. Whether that absence was a strategic decision on their part or explained by the first defendant's illness became an issue. The case demonstrates that the courts will be careful to scrutinise applications to adjourn a civil trial on the basis of a party's illness.
The Insurance Agents Registration Board recently initiated disciplinary proceedings against a former AIA International Limited agent for breaches of the Code of Practice issued by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers. The resulting disciplinary action included a payment order of HK$806,200 against AIA; however, this decision was reversed by the Court of First Instance following a judicial review.
The High Court of Hong Kong has a wide discretion to grant shareholders access to company documents, pursuant to Section 740 of the Companies Ordinance (Cap 622). The court has been astute in assisting shareholders to protect their legitimate interests by allowing access to company documents while, at the same time, preventing them from launching so-called 'fishing' expeditions. What may amount to fishing, in this context, was recently considered by the court.
The Hong Kong Legislative Council recently passed the Apology Bill with the aim of removing certain legal disincentives for parties to convey an apology in the context of civil disputes. In the footsteps of many overseas jurisdictions which have already adopted apology legislation, Hong Kong is the first Asian jurisdiction to enact this type of legislation, which generally precludes an apology from being taken into account in the determination of fault and liability.
Injunctive relief to freeze a defendant's assets (ie, a Mareva injunction) can extend to third parties under the so-called 'Chabra' jurisdiction where there is good reason to suppose that the assets held by the third parties are in fact assets belonging to the defendant. This jurisdiction is described as exceptional. However, as a recent case demonstrates, while the courts are careful in exercising their jurisdiction in this regard, they will do so in deserving cases.
The Hong Kong Court of First Instance recently ruled that a Chinese state-owned enterprise was not entitled to invoke crown immunity against the execution of a charging order of assets in Hong Kong. The decision provides welcome clarity on the approach that the courts will take in deciding whether, and when, a claim of crown immunity against enforcement of a judgment or an arbitral award might succeed in Hong Kong.
In an age of electronic scams, with money passing through bank accounts in Hong Kong, foreign plaintiffs are increasingly pursuing defendants in Hong Kong to recover their money. In seeking summary judgment, some plaintiffs are careful not to allege fraud on the part of the defendants – rather, their claims may be for the return of money unjustly received by the defendants for no consideration. A recent case is a good example.
The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission recently signed an agreement to conduct an equivalence assessment on the insurance solvency regulatory regimes of Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as to implement procedures and transitional arrangements to increase cooperation between the two insurance regulatory bodies.
In an important decision reported earlier this year, the Court of First Instance decided that the Securities and Futures Commission should adopt a generous test of relevance when giving disclosure of materials in director disqualification proceedings – an approach to disclosure that was more commensurate with the duty of a prosecutor in criminal proceedings.
The Judiciary Administration in Hong Kong has proposed to increase the monetary jurisdiction limits for civil claims in the District Court. The proposals were recently considered by the Legislative Council Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services, further to a report of the Judiciary Administration. The proposals appear to have broad agreement among different stakeholders and, subject to the passage of a necessary resolution in the Legislative Council, look likely to be implemented sometime in 2018.
A recent decision underlines the need for caution on the part of defendants and their legal advisers when considering a jurisdictional challenge. In particular, prior to the determination of a challenge to jurisdiction, defendants should think carefully before making any application to the court for relief, to ensure that in doing so they are not invoking the court's jurisdiction. While defendants may seek to reserve their rights to challenge jurisdiction, their conduct could suggest otherwise.