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Section 247A Corp Law - Right to inspect books

Issues at CPA Australia needing investigation and/or review.
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JWheldon
Posts: 332
Joined: Wed May 24, 2017 6:43 pm

Section 247A Corp Law - Right to inspect books

Post by JWheldon » Sat Jul 29, 2017 12:20 pm

Something to consider. Right to inspect the books of CPA Australia, for issues concerning the remunerations, the related party payments and payments to CPA Australia Advice. Members could put an application to CPA Australia to inspect the books first. CPA Australia has to consider the application. There are well founded concerns with regards to the way that CPA Australia is being run, which is now well published. There is a right to access the records of CPA Australia under section 247A of the Corporations Law. If CPA Australia wants to reject the applications, then a court will, upon well founded concerns, grant access to those records. Have attached information below for members review.

http://hallandwilcox.com.au/hand-over-those-documents/

Hand over those documents!
04 Apr 2016

Corporate and commercial Joint ventures and shareholders arrangements

Does this sound familiar?

Help, a shareholder wants to inspect our company’s documents! They are saying they are legally entitled to review the ‘books of the company’? What documents actually comprise the ‘books of the company’? And, do we have to hand all of them over?
Can a shareholder have access to a company’s documents?

As a company officer, you may receive a request from a shareholder to inspect company documents/books as part of an investigation by that shareholder into certain actions of the company (or the board) which, in the shareholder’s view, may have affected the value of their investment in the company. The request may also be motivated by a sense that information is not being voluntarily provided to shareholders. Alternatively, it may be based on a desire to find a third party buyer for some or all of the shares in the company. Whatever the basis, all such requests should be carefully considered before any documents are handed over.

A company’s constitution (or even the shareholders’ agreement if one exists) may grant rights to shareholders to inspect the company’s books. Ideally, the drafters of the constitution or shareholders’ agreement will have been specific in defining the scope of the ‘company books’ definition. In our experience, this is quite often not the case.

In any event, these contractual rights will be in addition to the fundamental statutory access rights of shareholders under section 247A of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Act). A shareholder can bring an application to the court for inspection of the books of the company under section 247A. However, there is an important qualification to the access right under the Act: the application must be brought in good faith and for a proper purpose.
What do you need to do if faced with a request for access?

When faced with such a request (which could be a precursor to a statutory application being made), company directors (or other officers) should consider the following questions. In some cases, it may be appropriate to grant access prior to the court application being made to save time, costs and avoid an unnecessary dispute.

What does ‘books of the company’ mean?
Is it conferred by contract (company constitution or shareholders’ agreement) and, if so, does the contact clearly define the scope of the access rights or impose any conditions or qualifications on the right of access?
What is the purpose of an inspection/request for access?
This is a relevant and appropriate question to ask (particularly if access is being requested as a precursor to making an application under section 247A).
Must access be granted to all company documents?
What about confidentiality or legal professional privilege?

The recent case of Engel v National Biodiesel Ltd1 involved the Federal Court exploring the definition of ‘books of the company’ and the orders available in the context of a shareholder’s section 247A application.
Engel – the facts

Mr Engel, a shareholder of National Biodiesel Limited (NBL), applied to the Court for access to certain documents of NBL after NBL had refused his direct request. The purpose of Mr Engel’s application was to examine what he considered to be a series of related party transactions between NBL, its subsidiary (National Biodiesel Distributors (Australia) Pty Ltd (NBDA)), its major shareholder (National Biodiesel Group Pty Ltd (NBG)) and various other related parties. Mr Engel feared these transactions had resulted in assets being moved out of NBL, thereby diluting the value of his investment.

Mr Engel provided a schedule of 15 categories of documents he wished to inspect for the relevant period, including documents relating to loans from NBL to NBG, the transfer of trademarks from NGB to NBL and the transfer of NBL’s assets to related third parties.
Engel – the Court’s findings
What does ‘books of the company’ mean?

The phrase ‘books of the company’, as a whole, is not defined (ie neither generally nor in the context of section 247A). The Act widely defines ‘books’ to include:

a register;
any other record of information;
financial reports/records; and
a document.

In Engel, Justice Markovic found that the phrase ‘of the company’ meant property of the company. While this is a question of fact, a party will need to show something beyond possession to establish that a document belongs to it. Her Honour also noted that where a parent company receives material from its subsidiary for inclusion in board packs, ownership in the materials would pass to the parent and become part of its records.
What is the purpose of an inspection? Do we have to hand over all documents?

The purpose of an inspection indicates the reasons why the shareholder wants access to the ‘books of the company’. It also aids in defining the scope of an application under section 247A by determining the categories of company books that will be made accessible to the shareholder – shareholders will rarely be granted unfettered access to all of the books of the company.

In Engel, the Court was satisfied that Mr Engel’s application was in good faith and for a proper purpose, as he was seeking the inspection to investigate the circumstances surrounding certain transactions to determine whether he should commence proceedings (ie for a contravention of the related party provisions in Chapter 2E).

In making its determination, the Court emphasised that an application under section 247A is not for a wholesale inspection of all books, but rather for those documents that bear on and have particular relevance to the purpose for which the inspection is sought. The Court also confirmed that it has discretion to determine such matters and held that certain documents sought by Mr Engel were not relevant to the inspection.
What about confidentiality and legal professional privilege?

The issue of whether provision of some of the documents could be resisted owing to legal professional privilege was also explored. Due to the lack of common interest between NBL and Mr Engel, which could preserve the privilege in those documents if they were disclosed, the Court agreed that legal professional privilege may apply to certain documents. The Court ordered that a list of such alleged privileged documents with a brief description should be provided to Mr Engel.

The Court also considered confidentiality of the disclosed documents. Protection is already provided for in the Act at section 247C, which prevents third parties authorised to inspect the books on behalf of the applicant from disclosing any information obtained during the inspection to persons other than the applicant or ASIC. That section, however, does not impose any limitation on the disclosure or use an applicant, as opposed to a third party, can make of that information.

Justice Markovic agreed, on balance, ‘until further order’ to make confidentiality orders to prevent Mr Engel from communicating or disclosing information obtained as a result of the inspection or copying of the books, except for the purpose of investigating and determining whether proceedings should be commenced in his name or derivative proceedings in NBL’s name.
Who should pay the costs of a section 247A application?

Cost awards are determined by the Court. In Engel, however, NBL was ordered to pay the costs of Mr Engel’s application on the basis that he had requested access to the documents directly from NBL (which access was denied) and was somewhat successful in his section 247A application.
Key learnings

If faced with a request from a shareholder to inspect the books of the company, a company should give careful consideration to the documents requested, the purpose of the request, whether the requested documents are actually the property of the company and whether any privilege or confidentiality issues could be raised. From the Engel decision, it would seem that the concept of the ‘books of the company’ still has a very broad meaning. Importantly, the appropriate scope of the actual books that can be accessed is defined more by the purpose for which access is requested (ie only those documents that are relevant to the purpose should be provided).

If agreement can be reached with the shareholder as to an appropriate category of documents to be disclosed, and also the conditions on which disclosure is granted (eg on the basis a confidentiality agreement is first entered into with the company), this may prevent the souring of relations and also the cost, adverse publicity and disruption of court proceedings.

A company should be aware that where it rejects a shareholder’s request and the shareholder brings a section 247A application, the company may end up bearing the costs of the application if the shareholder is successful (or even partly successful).

1[2015] FCA 1114

https://macdonnells.com.au/shareholder- ... any-books/


Shareholder Inspection of Company Books

Commercial Law | September 24th, 2014

Under section 247A of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (“the Act”) a Court may make an order authorising a shareholder of a company to inspect the company’s books. The order may only be made if the Court is satisfied that the shareholder is acting in good faith and the inspection is to be made for a proper purpose. “Books” are defined in the Act to include a register, any other record of information, financial reports or financial records and documents.

Over the years there have been a number of cases that have considered what constitutes acting in “Good Faith” and for a “Proper Purpose”. It is useful to summarise the principles that have arisen from these cases to enable both shareholders and directors to determine when a shareholder should be given access to a company’s books.

Good Faith and Proper Purpose

A shareholder is considered to be acting in good faith and for a proper purpose in their application to access a company’s books where the shareholder:

Has reasonable grounds to believe that misconduct or maladministration of the company has occurred, and the information sought will assist to confirm or deny this;
Seeks to verify whether financial forecasts made by a company’s officers are correct, where the shareholder has reasonable grounds to believe that the forecasts may not be substantiated;
Is contemplating bringing oppression proceedings against the company’s officers; or
Requires the information sought in order to determine whether to institute a takeover of the company.

Other Principles

The cases have also confirmed:

A Court is less likely to grant access to the books of an ASX listed company, as through the continuous disclosure regime under the Act the majority of information relating to the company that a shareholder should require is already publicly available;
A general unease about a practice of the company which is shown to be without foundation will not constitute a proper purpose, nor will a genuine curiosity about the company’s affairs;
The purpose of the inspection will determine what books are to be made accessible to the shareholder –it would be rare for a shareholder be given unfettered access to all of the company’s books;
The meaning of “books” is very wide, and can include things such as company officer’s insurance policies. Shareholders have previously been granted access to such policies to enable them to determine the utility of bringing legal proceedings on the company’s behalf against its officers for mismanagement; and
Where a company’s Constitution provides shareholders with a right to inspect the company’s books in certain circumstances, this right will operate in addition to section 247A of the Act.

What does this mean for shareholders?

The above cases have essentially confirmed that unless a shareholder is able to show a well-founded cause for concern in relation to the company’s management or dealings, or a genuine requirement for the information sought,they will not be successful in an application to access the books of the company. For more information about your individual circumstances, please contact our experienced lawyers today.

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