Successfully Obtained Indemnity Costs: Stay under Arbitration Act

I had written before on the approach by other jurisdictions to grant indemnity costs if Court proceedings were initiated in breach of an arbitration agreement.

Yesterday afternoon, I successfully obtained an order for costs on an indemnity basis as I had succeeded in applying for a stay of the Court proceedings pending arbitral proceedings. This was for four stay applications we had filed and all four was allowed with costs on an indemnity basis. I am not aware of any reported Malaysian decision on this point.

The argument was that the suit had been filed in breach of the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the successful applicant should be entitled to be compensated dollar-for-dollar for the legal costs incurred in applying for a stay.

Such an approach by the Malaysian Courts would throw support for arbitration and ensure that parties largely follow their contractual bargain to arbitrate.

A summary of the legal authorities from England, Australia and Singapore is set out below.

England

In A v B (No 2) [2007] EWHC 54, Court proceedings were stayed as the proceedings were brought in breach of an arbitration agreement. It was held that as the breach had caused the innocent party to incur legal costs, those costs should normally be recoverable on an indemnity basis.

The English High Court held that where a party has successfully obtained an anti-suit injunction or a stay of court proceedings as a remedy for a breach of an arbitration agreement, and provided that that party demonstrates that the breach caused it to reasonably incur legal costs, such costs should normally be recoverable on an indemnity basis. The alternative, if those costs were assessed on a standard basis, would mean that the successful party would be unable to recover part of the losses resulting from the breach. That unrecoverable portion of costs would either be lost or would have to be recovered through separate proceedings, a situation which the court considered would give rise to a fundamentally unjust situation:

(At pages 636-637)
“[9]    … (I)f a costs order in favour of a successful applicant for a stay or for an anti-suit injunction directed to giving effect to an arbitration agreement or an English jurisdiction clause must, save in exceptional cases be confined to costs on the standard basis, there would necessarily be a part of the successful applicant’s costs of the application which it had properly incurred but could not recover by such an order because of the restrictive process of assessment. This unindemnified portion of costs would then be loss which could only be recovered as damages for breach of the jurisdiction or arbitration agreement, if such a damages claim were permissible. Where the cause of action for relief enforcing the agreement by stay or injunction in the English court and the cause of action for damages for breach of that agreement are, as they normally will be, the same, the effect of those authorities such as Berry’s case, supra, referred to in the Union Discount case, supra, will be to prevent separate proceedings for damages by reference to unrecovered costs, notwithstanding the breach of the arbitration or jurisdiction agreement.

[10]    This would give rise to a fundamentally unjust situation. There can be no question but that the procedural consequence of conduct by a party to an arbitration or jurisdiction agreement which amounts to a breach of it and causes the opposite party reasonably to incur legal costs ought to be that the innocent party recovers by a costs order and/or by an award of damages the whole, and not merely part, of its reasonable legal costs.”

Australia

The approach in A v B was recently adopted in the Supreme Court of Western Australia decision of Pipelines Services WA Pty Ltd v ATCO Gas Australia Pty Ltd [2014] WASC 10. The Court ordered Pipeline to pay costs on an indemnity basis to ATCO when ATCO had successfully applied for a stay of proceedings under section 8 of the Commercial Arbitration Act 2012.

In making the order, the Court confirmed the application of the principle in A v B that indemnity costs will generally be awarded where a party commences legal proceedings in breach of a contractual obligation to refer a dispute to arbitration; see pages 44-47 of the Austlii report.

Singapore

The English Court’s approach has also been adopted by the courts in Singapore. In the case of Tjong Very Sumito and Others v Antig Investments Pte Ltd [2009] 4 SLR (R) 732 (CA Sing), the Singapore Court of Appeal heard an appeal against an order granting a stay of proceedings arising out of a share purchase agreement containing an arbitration clause. The lower court had endorsed the English court’s decision in A v B and granted the stay with indemnity costs to be paid to the successful party. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision, found the appeal to be entirely unmeritorious and dismissed it, again with indemnity costs; see pages 741 and 768 of the report.

 

 

With Absolute Assignment, No Need for Remedies under NLC

The Federal Court in its decision dated 7 April 2015 in Damai Freight (M) Sdn Bhd v Affin Bank Berhad clarified an important issue of law, especially for banks and secured lenders.

The question of law posed to the Federal Court was:

“Whether a lender having an absolute assignment of rights to land may realise his security under the terms of the assignment, where the document of title to the land was issued subsequently, without the need to resort to the remedies under the National Land Code (NLC).”

The answer to this is yes.

In summary, the Federal Court’s findings were:

  1. There was an absolute assignment and not one by way of charge only. The Bank should have all the rights, title and interest of the assignor.
  2. When the title was issued to the Land, the Bank did not lose its security or its power of sale under the Loan Agreement Cum Assignment (LACA). The absolute assignment under the LACA survives.
  3. The Bank is thus empowered to realise its security for the loans by way of private sale of the Land.
  4. There is no necessity for the Bank to first create a charge or to resort to foreclosure under the NLC to realise its security. The Bank’s recovery action stands independently.
  5. Section 206(3) of the NLC allows such a transaction relating to any alienated land to give effect to the contractual obligations and rights of the parties as they had determined in the LACA.

Conflict of Laws: Quantification of Damages Governed by Law of the Court

This Federal Court decision dated  16 March 2015 involved the USD25 million judgment obtained by the Singapore company, Scandinavian Bunker, against MISC.

An interesting conflict of laws issue arose in this case. The governing law of the contract was English law while the suit was filed in the Malaysian Courts (there was an exclusive jurisdiction of Malaysian Courts clause). The question was which law should govern the quantification of damages? Would it be the governing law of the contract (English law) or the lex fori (i.e. the law of the court) (Malaysian law)?

Instinctively, one might think that the law governing the quantification of damages would follow the governing law of the contract.

However, the Federal Court, looking at the English position, held that the lex fori would be the law governing the quantification of damages. Nonetheless, in this case, whether it was English law on Sale of Goods or Malaysian law on Sale of Goods did not make a significant difference.

This Federal Court decision may have a significant impact when a party attempts to rely on a liquidated damages clause in a contract. If the contract has a foreign governing law but the legal proceedings are brought in the Malaysian Courts, then the damages sought under the liquidated damages clause may be subject to Malaysian law. The cases like Selva Kumar and Johor Coastal would apply and where actual loss may still have to be proven.

Some Procedural Points for the Statutory Derivative Action

In the recent unreported High Court decision of Abdul Rahim bin Suleiman and another v Faridah binti Md Lazim & 7 Others dated 3 April 2015, Justice Wong Kian Kheong considered an application for leave under section 181A of the Companies Act 1965 to bring a statutory derivative action. I have written a commentary on the statutory derivative action provisions over here before.

The decision is useful in setting out some of the procedural guidelines that must be met in bringing such an action. Some of the significant points are:

  1. A complainant only apply under 181A to bring a new action, to act for the company when the company intervenes in an action, and to defend a pending action against the company.
  2. A complainant cannot seek to apply to act for the company where the suit is already concluded or where the suit is pending (as that suit would be under the control of the present management of the company).
  3. Notice under section 181B must be given to each of the directors. It is not sufficient just to address it to the Board of Directors.
  4.  This decision gave some guidance on what should be in the contents of the section 181B notice and the decision referred to several Canadian cases.
  5.  The application for leave is filed by way of Originating Summons (OS). In the OS, the applicant need only cite the Company itself as the sole Defendant. There is no need to cite the other alleged wrongdoers as parties to the OS. Nonetheless, citing the other alleged wrongdoers was not fatal in this case.

A Singularis Approach to Cross-Border Insolvencies

[Originally published in Skrine Legal Insights Issue 1/2015]

The Privy Council in Singularis Holdings Ltd v Pricewaterhouse Coopers [2014] UKPC 36 (“Singularis”) has clarified the extent to which courts can render common law assistance for cross-border insolvencies.

In summary, there is a limited common law power to assist a liquidator appointed by a foreign court by ordering the production of information. Such information must be necessary for the administration of the foreign winding up and this power is only exercisable if the foreign court could have made such an equivalent order.

BACKGROUND: MODIFIED UNIVERSALISM

In a cross-border insolvency, courts may be faced with difficult questions. Should a domestic court apply its domestic laws as if the case had no international aspects or should a domestic court defer to the foreign laws of the main jurisdiction of incorporation of the wound up company?

In other words, should a ‘territorialist’ approach be applied where the domestic court only applies its domestic laws? Alternatively, should a ‘universalist’ approach prevail in allowing a single set of the foreign laws of the main winding up jurisdiction to govern all of the global winding up proceedings?

A middle ground between these two concepts is that of ‘modified universalism.’ The courts of all countries should cooperate, as far as possible, with the laws of the main jurisdiction, except where the domestic jurisdiction has a compelling reason to apply its domestic laws.

It is against this backdrop of the increasing recognition of modified universalism that the facts of Singularis are set out below.

BRIEF FACTS OF SINGULARIS

Singularis Holdings Limited (“Singularis”) had been wound up in its place of incorporation, the Cayman Islands. The liquidators of Singularis (“Liquidators”) obtained court orders in the Cayman Islands against the company’s former auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers (“PwC”) in Bermuda, to deliver up to the Liquidators certain documents. This was in order to facilitate the Liquidators’ investigations to trace certain assets. However, the law of the Cayman Islands only provided for documents “belonging to” a company to be delivered up to a liquidator. There was no dispute that this would not include material belonging to PwC itself, principally their audit working papers.

Subsequently, in Bermuda, while there was no ancillary liquidation of Singularis, the Liquidators obtained an order from the Bermudan court recognising their status as liquidators. Where a company is wound up in Bermuda, Bermudan law had a wider provision where documents “relating to” a company are to be delivered up to the liquidator of the wound up company. Relying on this Bermudan provision, the Liquidators applied for a Bermudan court order for PwC to deliver up its audit working papers.

At first instance, the Bermudan court allowed the Liquidators’ application and relied on the principle of modified universalism. The Bermudan court exercised a common law power to order PwC to produce the same documents which they could have been ordered to produce under the relevant Bermudan provision.

PwC appealed the decision and on appeal, the Bermudan Court of Appeal set aside the first instance decision. The Liquidators appealed to the Privy Council.

PRIVY COUNCIL DECISION

The Privy Council, by a three to two majority decision,  dismissed the appeal on grounds that the Liquidators would not have had the power to require PwC to produce the documentation under the laws of the Liquidators’ main winding up jurisdiction i.e. Cayman Islands law. While the Privy Council was deciding on Bermuda law, the common law of Bermuda is the same as that of England.

The Privy Council had to consider two issues:

(1)    Whether a common law power existed to assist foreign liquidators by ordering parties to provide information in circumstances where the equivalent statutory power did not apply to foreign liquidators; and

(2)    Whether, if such a power existed, it should be exercised where an equivalent order could not have been made by the court in the main winding up proceedings.

Firstly, the Privy Council upheld the general principle of modified universalism as set out in the Privy Council case of Cambridge Gas Transport Corp v Navigator Holdings plc Creditors’ Committee [2006] UKPC 26 (“Cambridge Gas”). At common law, the Court has power to recognise and grant assistance to foreign insolvency proceedings. However, the Privy Council overruled some of the other wider principles set out in Cambridge Gas and held that a domestic court does not have the common law power to assist the foreign court by doing whatever it could have done in a domestic insolvency.

In dealing with the issues in the appeal, the majority decision held that there is a common law power to assist a foreign insolvency court by ordering the production of information, whether oral or documentary, which is necessary for the administration of a foreign winding up.

However, this common law power is subject to the following five limitations:

(i)    It is only available to assist the officers of a foreign insolvency court. It would not be available, for example, to assist a voluntary winding up, which is essentially a private arrangement and is not conducted by or on behalf of an officer of the court.

(ii)    It is a power of assistance and exists to enable courts to surmount the problems posed for a world-wide winding up of the company’s affairs. It is therefore not available to enable foreign liquidators to do something which they could not do under the law by which they were appointed.

(iii)    It is available only when it is necessary for the performance of the office-holder’s functions.

(iv)    Such an order must be consistent with the substantive law and public policy of the assisting domestic court, in this case that of Bermuda. Following from this, it is not available to exercise such a common law power to obtain material for use in actual or anticipated litigation. Further, in some jurisdictions, it may be contrary to domestic public policy to make an order which there would be no power to make in a domestic insolvency.

(v)    The exercise of this power is conditional on the applicant being prepared to pay the third party’s reasonable costs of compliance.

Therefore, the Bermuda court had both the right and the duty to assist the Cayman court in so far as it properly could within the limits of its own inherent powers. This was to enable the officers of the Cayman court to do in Bermuda that which they could do in the Cayman Islands.

However, the Bermuda court could not exercise a common law power which was not exercisable by the Cayman court and could not apply the legislation applicable to its domestic winding up by analogy ‘as if’ the Cayman winding up was a domestic (i.e. Bermudan) winding up. It was not a proper use of the Bermuda court’s common law power of assistance for it to purport to use a power analogous to the Bermudan statutory provision to compel disclosure and production of information which belonged to PwC rather than the company.

LOCAL APPLICATION

In Malaysia, the Privy Council decision would not be binding but would be persuasive. Where a foreign company is wound up by the court of its main jurisdiction, and there is no ancillary winding up in Malaysia, the foreign liquidator would likely be able to obtain a Malaysian order recognising its status as a liquidator and possibly obtain an order for the production of information which is necessary for the administration of the foreign winding up.

Similarly, a local court-appointed liquidator of a Malaysian company with worldwide links may also apply for such orders for production of information in other common law jurisdictions.

It appears that this broad principle of allowing a production of information, both oral and documentary, would allow a foreign liquidator to also apply for orders allowing for private or public examination of persons in connection with the affairs of the company in winding up (assuming that there are such equivalent provisions in the foreign liquidator’s main jurisdiction).

Decades ago, the Singapore High Court in Re China Underwriters Life and General Insurance Co Ltd [1988] 1 MLJ 409 held that the court had no inherent jurisdiction or power to order the private or public examination of persons and dismissed the Hong Kong liquidator’s application. It was recognised in that case that such a power of examination was an extraordinary one which invoked images of the Inquisition and of the Court of Star Chamber. This decision was upheld by the Singapore Court of Appeal in Official Receiver of Hongkong v Kao Wei Tseng & Ors [1990] 2 MLJ 321. At that time, it was held that it was only a statutory power available in a domestic winding up.

As a result of Singularis, we may now have a broadening of the courts’ power in Malaysia to assist foreign court-appointed liquidators.

Committal: Prima Facie Case Test and of Last Resort

Justice Wong Kian Kheong’s Grounds of Judgment in the case of Tan Kang Ho v Mao Sheng Marketing (M) Sdn Bhd provides a useful summary of the typical issues and challenges raised in a committal application. I have shared some tips about making a committal application earlier as well.

The Case of Tan Kang Ho

In summary, this case involved a consent Order allowing one of the party’s appointed auditor to inspect and to take photocopies of accounts of the company. This is the Order that triggered the subsequent committal application. This Order arguably had vague terms, it did not have a proper sealed penal indorsement, it did not provide for any time limit for the carrying out of any act, and the Order had not been served personally on the alleged contemnors. All of these were upheld as the procedural defects going towards the dismissal of the committal application.

This case also usefully sets out two points.

Firstly, what is the threshold to be met for leave for committal to be granted? Committal proceedings are a two-stage process. The first stage is to apply ex parte for leave to commence committal proceedings. At this stage, the case law sets out that a prima facie case for contempt has to be made out. The Court noted that there did not appear to be any Malaysian decision setting out what is the threshold for such a prima facie case. The Court’s view was that this prima facie case is met where:

  1. The Statement and Affidavit Verifying show that the alleged contemnor has committed a specie of contempt of court e.g. breaching a Court Order or having scandalised the Court.
  2. The contents of the Affidavit should not be inherently improbable.
  3. The standard of proof at the leave stage is not beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court should keep an open mind and not make any finding of fact.

Secondly, this case also reiterated that committal should only be used as a last resort. The Court did take into account alternative remedies open to the applicant. In this case, for example, the Court was of the view that complaints could be lodged with the Companies Commission of Malaysia for it to investigate into any breaches.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my view is that Courts can afford to be extra vigilant in committal proceedings, even at the leave stage. Committal proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and with the real possibility of imprisonment if there is a finding of contempt. One of the side effects of there being an Order allowing leave for committal is that the alleged contemnors must then first purge their contempt. The alleged contemnors will find it difficult to continue with their own applications and must first oppose the committal application.

Where a party applies for leave for committal (and the Rules of Court 2012 sets out that this is done ex parte), then the general duty to make full and frank disclosure should oblige the applicant to highlight the possible procedural problems in the committal application. So for example, here, where the consent Order did have procedural weaknesses for the purposes of making a committal application. At the ex parte leave stage, the Court could also query an applicant on any of such issues and to also query whether there were alternative remedies open.

Time can be Extended for Affidavits in Winding Up

In winding up proceedings, the Companies (Winding-up) Rules 1972 provide for strict timelines for the filing of the affidavits. Rule 30 provides that the affidavit in opposition to the Petition shall be filed and served at least 7 days before the hearing of the Petition. In turn, the Petitioner’s affidavit in reply to the affidavit in opposition shall be filed and served within 3 days of the date of service of the affidavit in opposition. This makes the timeline very tight, especially for the Petitioner’s affidavit in reply.

Since the Court of Appeal decision in Crocuses & Daffodils (M) Sdn Bhd v Development & Commercial Bank Bhd [1997] 2 MLJ 756, there has been a line of authorities which has applied these timelines strictly. This is due to the use of the word “shall” in the Rule 30.

Court of Appeal decision in Kilo Asset

In the recent unreported grounds of judgment in Hiew Tai Hong v Kilo Asset Sdn Bhd, the Court of Appeal had to consider the issue as to whether there could be an extension of time to allow for the late filing of the various affidavits in a winding up Petition. In this case, the winding up petition involved a shareholder dispute where the petition relied largely on the just and equitable grounds. Extensive facts and the history between the shareholders were set out in the petition. This was not a case where the petition was based on an inability to pay debt and where a creditor was petitioning for winding up.

While the affidavits in opposition by the respondent were filed in time, the Petitioner filed his three affidavits in reply well past the 3-day timeline as set out in Rule 30. The Respondent then filed further affidavits in opposition.  Presumably because of an objection raised on the late filing of the affidavits in reply, the Petitioner filed an application for an extension of time. This application was based on Rule 193 which allows for enlargement or abridgment of time and Rule 194 which provides that no proceedings shall be invalidated by any formal defect or any irregularity unless the Court views that substantial injustice has been caused.

The High Court Judge dismissed the Petitioner’s extension of time application and therefore disregarded the Petitioner’s affidavits in reply. As the High Court Judge viewed that the Respondent’s affidavits in opposition was therefore left unanswered, the Petition was dismissed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the extension of time and ordered that the Petition be remitted back to the High Court for a full hearing. Firstly, the Court of Appeal was guided by the wordings of Rules 193 and 194 which would allow for an extension of time. These Rules were not referred to in the judgment of Crocuses & Daffodils. This is consistent with the current approach of the Courts to have regard to the justice of the case and not only to the technical non-compliance.

Secondly, the Court of Appeal also made a distinction between the present just and equitable winding up Petition and a Petition based on an inability to pay a debt (the latter being the Petition in Crocuses & Daffodils). In a just and equitable winding up Petition, involving a dispute among the shareholders and allegations against the directors, it is common for the facts to be hotly disputed and  where there is the possibility of cross-examination of deponents as well. Therefore, it would not be possible for the Court to adopt such a rigid approach to non-compliance.

Commentary

This decision is welcomed in taking a step away from a mechanical rigid approach for such affidavit timelines. Instead, the Court weighs up the justice of the case in deciding whether to allow for an extension of time or not. This is even more important in such a just and equitable winding up scenario where the facts are commonly disputed and where it is very common to have an extensive exchange of affidavits.

In practice, for a just and equitable winding up petition, the solicitors commonly agree among themselves for an extension of time for the filing and exchange of affidavits. It can be very difficult for the Petitioner to comply with the 3-day rule to file in the affidavit in reply. Rule 30 is also silent in allowing for the further filing of affidavits since no timeline is provided. This decision however appears to only apply in the context of such a Petition based on the just and equitable ground. A party seeking such an extension of time must still file in an application under Rules 193 and 194.

However, this decision does not go so far as to outright overrule the Crocuse & Daffodils approach in maintaining strict timelines for the inability to pay debt scenario. It can also be quite common to have a lengthy exchange of affidavits if the debt is heavily in dispute. Nonetheless, to prevent the risk of such a technical objection, all parties had best still comply strictly with the timelines set out in Rule 30.