In a recent decision, the head of the Commercial Court provided topical guidance on the construction and application of material adverse effect clauses in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The judgment highlights the significance of the precise words used and the importance of ensuring, insofar as possible, that they properly reflect the intended allocation of risk between the parties.
The judiciary in Hong Kong recently published a Guidance Note for Case Settlement Conference in Civil Cases in the District Court. The guidance note extends a pilot scheme for facilitating settlement in general civil cases in the District Court. While facilitating the settlement of certain civil disputes is a laudable aim and part of the underlying objectives in the court rules, the guidance note appears to raise more questions than it answers.
According to a recent Privy Council decision, the Duomatic principle can apply to ostensible authority as well as actual authority. The council found that a company's director and registered agent were not in breach of their tortious duties of care to the company where they were acting on the instructions of an agent who had ostensible authority. This case provides insight into circumstances where arrangements cloaking the beneficial owners of, in particular, offshore companies are relatively common.
The High Court recently dismissed a plaintiff company's application to continue an ex parte injunction to restrain the defendant bank from presenting a winding-up petition against the company. The company claimed that it had already secured the bank's debt and that, therefore, the bank could not demonstrate that it was unable to pay its debts for the purposes of Section 178(1)(a) of the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap 32).
The High Court of England and Wales has recently taken a flexible approach to the conditions which a victim of wrongdoing must satisfy in order to obtain information from third parties potentially mixed up in that wrongdoing. In a recent decision in which it granted a Norwich Pharmacal order, the court held that it was sufficient to establish a good arguable case for essential elements of the cause of action, even if there were significant questions over important case aspects, such as limitation.
There is no additional requirement for in-house foreign lawyers to be appropriately qualified or recognised or regulated as professional lawyers for legal advice privilege to extend to communications between them and company employees. The requirement for legal advice privilege to attach to communications is that the adviser was acting in their capacity as a lawyer. A recent decision by the High Court has confirmed these tenets of English legal advice privilege.
The High Court has held that banks may be liable for breaches of the Quincecare duty even where the customer's net assets have not been reduced by the breach. This judgment provides a useful review of the application of the duty and introduces the interesting suggestion that damages may be assessed differently where an individual or company is "hopelessly and irredeemably insolvent". This may give liquidators an additional avenue to pursue lost monies beyond the realm of Quincecare claims.
In a recent case, a High Court judge dismissed the defendants' application that she recuse herself from a substantive hearing in contempt proceedings. The application was based on what the defendants submitted was a reasonable apprehension of bias ('apparent bias') – in particular, they claimed that in an earlier decision involving the same parties, the judge had prejudged a question of fact that was crucial in the contempt proceedings.
The Court of Appeal recently held that 'market practice' is too wide a term to be implied into an International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) master agreement covering currency trading transactions by dismissing a claim arising from the 'de-pegging' of the Swiss franc from the euro. The desire to maintain the certainty and stability of the relationship between those contracting based on the ISDA master agreement underpinned the court's decision.
In a recent case, the High Court allowed the defendants' applications to dismiss the plaintiff's two actions on the ground of abuse of process – in particular, given that no procedural step had been taken by the parties since 1 April 2009, just before the civil procedure reforms came into effect in Hong Kong. Although each application for dismissal based on abuse of process turns on its facts, this case demonstrates that egregious delay and inaction can prove fatal.
Evidence of the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the claimant's financial position was not enough to show an inability to pay adverse costs in a recent application for security for costs in the High Court. Although this decision demonstrates the court's willingness to consider the impact of the pandemic and the looming economic downturn in considering a party's financial viability for the purposes of a security for costs application, general evidence of the pandemic's economic impact will not suffice.
In a recent case, a court explored whether a borrower had been validly served when the borrower had failed to comply with its contractual obligation to ensure that a process agent remained in place at all times. The court's decision shows that it will adopt a commercial approach to the interpretation of process agent clauses and, where possible, it will give effect to such clauses' primary purpose of allowing a speedy and certain means of service.
The Court of Appeal recently considered the general principles for granting summary judgment (judgment without trial) in the context of cases involving 'water leakage' between apartments above and below one another. Summary judgment is difficult to obtain in Hong Kong, save for simple debt-type actions. However, there tend to be few winners in neighbour disputes involving water leakage which are ripe for alternative dispute resolution, provided there is goodwill on both sides.
In a recent case, the court declined to continue interim injunctions granted in respect of a 'coin depot account' holding bitcoin over which the claimants asserted a proprietary right. On this occasion, the balance of convenience in respect of continuing the injunctions did not lie with the claimants, including because damages would be an adequate remedy.
Where parties have entered into separate but related contracts, a breach of one contract does not necessarily preclude the recovery of damages under another. In a recent ruling, the Privy Council summarised the law in respect of remoteness of damage for breach of contract. In principle, the purpose of damages for breach of contract is to put the party whose rights have been breached in the same position, so far as money can do so, as if their rights had been observed.
The High Court recently allowed a defendant to rely on an expert's reports at trial, even though the expert witness had failed to verify his reports with a statement of truth or include a declaration that he agreed to be bound by the Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses. In the normal course of events, an expert report that lacks a statement of truth or a declaration will be inadmissible.
How are contradictory dispute resolution clauses resolved where the agreements are entered into at different times? Intention and purpose are key, as set out in the test in BNP Paribas v Trattamento. In a recent case, the parties intended two agreements to perform separate roles as part of one transaction (even though the second was not contemplated at the time of the first) and the court found that the Trattamento guide is to be followed.
Since the general adjourned period (GAP) ended on 3 May 2020, when the courts resumed normal business in Hong Kong, reported cases of COVID-19 infection have approximately tripled. At the time of writing, Hong Kong is experiencing a 'third wave' of infections. The next few weeks appear to be crucial in ascertaining whether the rate of infection will ease – failing which court users face the possibility of another GAP, during which the courts could close again save for urgent and essential court business.
The High Court recently clarified the rules applicable to defendants domiciled in states that are party to the EU Recast Brussels Regulation (1215/2012). Following the decision, the court has jurisdiction to hear a claim against a non-UK defendant under Article 8(1) of the regulation only if the claim against the UK-domiciled anchor defendant is sustainable.
Although parties are expected to exchange key documents before starting proceedings in the English courts, a recent Commercial Court decision highlights the limited nature of those obligations, particularly in a commercial context. Even though the judge was prepared to accept, albeit with some hesitation, that the jurisdictional threshold for making an order had been met, the application was unsuccessful.