Articles of association are a set of rules which determine how a company operates, they regulate the powers, affairs and relationships of the directors, shareholders and the company itself. The Companies Act 2006 (the “Act”) replaced the then well-known, Table A articles with Model Articles. The Model Articles are a generic set of articles of association which are included in Schedule 1 of the Act. Whilst the majority of companies adopt Model Articles as they are fairly suitable in most circumstances, companies are free to amend them or adopt completely bespoke articles.
However, recent case law has questioned the suitability of Model Articles for companies that have a sole director. The case of Hashmi v Lorimer-Wing questions the authority of a sole director in a company that has Model Articles. This case looked at Model Articles 7 and 11 in particular. The company within the case also had a bespoke article 16; however, regardless of this fact the court determined that the outcome of the case would not have differed if the company only had Model Articles. The relevant articles are set out below:
1. The general rule about decision-making by directors is that any decision of the directors must be either a majority decision at a meeting or a decision taken in accordance with article 8.
2. If (a) the company only has one director, and (b) no provision of the articles requires it to have more than one director, the general rule does not apply, and the director may take decisions without regard to any of the provisions of the articles relating to directors’ decision-making.
At a directors’ meeting, unless a quorum is participating, no proposal is to be voted on, except a proposal to call another meeting.
1. The quorum for directors’ meetings may be fixed from time to time by a decision of the directors, but it must never be less than two, and unless otherwise fixed it is two.
2. If the total number of directors for the time being is less than the quorum required, the directors must not take any decision other than a decision:
(a) to appoint further directors, or
(b) to call a general meeting so as to enable the shareholders to appoint further directors.
“The quorum for meetings of the Board shall be two directors, one of whom must be an investors’ director (if appointed) and one the executive (if appointed as director) unless such investors’ director or executive is unable to attend a Board meeting and has confirmed in writing (which may be by email) that they are satisfied that the Board meeting in question is quorate without them being present”.
In Hashmi v Lorimer-Wing a dispute arose where a company had attempted to submit a counterclaim against an unfair prejudice claim brought by a former shareholder. As the sole director of the company filed the counterclaim, it was the argument of the applicant that the decision to file the counterclaim was invalid under the company’s articles. They argued pursuant to Model Article 11, for a meeting to be quorate, there needed to be a minimum of two directors present. In addition to this, the bespoke article 16 further solidified the stance that more than one director was required to be at the meeting where the decision to issue the counterclaim was made. The company argued, (and the vast majority of people for many years were of the understanding) that Model Article 7 overruled Model Article 11 in the circumstances where the company only had one director and therefore for a meeting to be quorate only one director was needed, not two.
The judge in this case did not agree with such a view. They saw Model Article 11 as a clear caveat to the provisions of Model Article 7(2) and that in such circumstances where a sole director company adopts Model Articles, any decision made by the sole director would be outside of their authority due to the provisions of Model Article 11. In the specific circumstances of the case, the judge determined that the bespoke article 16 further added to this position, but would not have affected the outcome if it was not included in the articles.
This creates uncertainty for parties that are dealing with sole director companies, those parties who have previously dealt with sole director companies and sole director companies themselves. Whilst many may think that this is not an issue and only a technical legal point, if a decision of a sole director becomes a matter of contention in a dispute, then it is likely the argument that the director acted beyond their powers will arise, questioning the validity of the decision.
Whilst we would hope that a future case will overturn the court’s decision, for the moment a solution is needed for those sole director companies that have adopted Model Articles. There are two possible solutions:
If you require assistance with amending your articles of association in light of this article, please contact a member of our Corporate team.