Implication of a term is an aspect of contractual interpretation

In A-G of Belize v Belize Telecom Ltd ([2009] UKPC 10, PC) the question was whether a term should be implied into the articles of association of a company (‘the company’) that had been formed to carry on the business of the Belize Telecommunications Authority. Belize Telecom (‘BT’) was the majority shareholder in the company. The company’s shares were divided into classes. BT, as holder of  C shares that exceeded 37.5% of the issued share capital, had the right (under the terms of the company’s articles) to appoint two of the members of the board of directors. When BT defaulted on loans made to it by the Government, it had to transfer a substantial number of shares to the Government. The result was that its C shares no longer amounted to 37.5% of the issued share capital.

The question was whether its appointees to the board remained members of the board. There was no express term dealing with this contingency. Was there an implied term to the effect that a director appointed by virtue of a specified shareholding should vacate his office if there is no longer any holder of such a shareholding.

Lord Hoffmann gave the only full judgment. He emphasised that the law on the implication of contract terms was an aspect of the general law concerning contractual interpretation:

‘It follows that in every case in which it is said that some provision ought to be implied in an instrument, the question for the court is whether such a provision would spell out in express words what the instrument, read against the relevant background, would reasonably be understood to mean.’ ([21])

The term contended for was implied, ‘to avoid defeating what appears to have been the overriding purpose of the machinery of appointment and removal of directors, namely to ensure that the board reflects the appropriate shareholder interests in accordance with the scheme laid out in the articles’ ([32]).

Michael Lower

 

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