Explanatory Notes

Companies Act 2006

2006 CHAPTER 46

8 November 2006

Territorial Extent and Devolution

Chapter 2: General Duties of Directors

Sections 170 to 181: General comments

298.The general duties form a code of conduct, which sets out how directors are expected to behave; it does not tell them in terms what to do. More particularly, the duties address:

299.The duties are derived from equitable and common law rules, and are not at the moment written down in statute.

300.The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission recommended that there should be a statutory statement of a director’s main fiduciary duties and his duty of care and skill in their joint report Company Directors: Regulating Conflicts of Interests and Formulating a Statement of Duties. The CLR’s main recommendations in respect of directors’ general duties are summarised in chapter 3 of the Final Report.

301.The CLR recommended that there should be a statutory statement of directors’ general duties, and that this should, with two exceptions, described in the next paragraph, be a codification of the current law. In particular they wanted:

The Government has accepted these recommendations.

302.There are two areas, both relating to the regulation of conflicts of interest, where the statutory statement departs from the current law:

303.Both reforms implement recommendations of the CLR, which noted that the basic principles in the current law relating to directors’ conflicts of interest are very strict:

304.These reforms are modified for charitable companies in England and Wales and Northern Ireland by section 181.

Codification of common law rules and equitable principles

305.Codification is not a matter of transposing wording taken from judgments into legislative propositions. Judgments are, of necessity, directed at particular cases. Even when they appear to state general principles, they will rarely be exhaustive. They will be the application of (perhaps unstated) general principles to particular facts. In the company law field, the principles being applied will frequently be taken from other areas, in particular trusts and agency. It is important that these connections are not lost and that company law may continue to reflect developments elsewhere. Frequently the courts may formulate the same idea in different ways. In contrast legislation is formal. It is not easy to reconcile these two approaches but the draft sections seek to balance precision against the need for continued flexibility and development. In particular:

306.The statutory duties do not cover all the duties that a director may owe to the company. Many duties are imposed elsewhere in legislation, such as the duty to file accounts and reports with the registrar of companies (section 441). Other duties remain uncodified, such as any duty to consider the interests of creditors in times of threatened insolvency.

Duties owed to the company

307.Section 170(1) makes it clear that, as in the existing law, the general duties are owed by a director to the company. It follows that, as now, only the company can enforce them. Part 11 (derivative claims and actions by members) describes the mechanism whereby members may be able to enforce the duties on behalf of the company.

Who are the duties owed by?

308.The duties are owed by every person who is a director of a company (as defined in section 250). They are therefore owed by a de facto director in the same way and to the same extent that they are owed by a properly appointed director.

309.Certain aspects of the duty to avoid conflicts of interest and the duty not to accept benefits from third parties continue to apply even when a person ceases to be a director; this is necessary to ensure that a director cannot, for example, exploit an opportunity of which he became aware while managing the company’s business without the necessary consent simply by resigning his position as director. The closing words of section 170(2) provide that these duties apply to a former director subject to any necessary adaptations. This is to reflect the fact that a former director is not in the same legal position as an actual director.

310.The statutory duties apply to shadow directors where, and to the extent that, the common law rules or equitable principles which they replace so apply (section 170(5)). This means that where a common law rule or equitable principle applies to a shadow director, the statutory duty replacing that common law rule or equitable principle will apply to the shadow director (in place of that rule or principle). Where the rule or principle does not apply to a shadow director, the statutory duty replacing that rule or principle will not apply either.

The relationship between the duties

311.Many of the general duties will frequently overlap. Taking a bribe from a third party would, for example, clearly fall within the duty not to accept benefits from third parties (section 176) but could also, depending on the facts, be characterised as a failure to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members (section 172) or as an aspect of failing to exercise independent judgment (section 173).

312.The effect of the duties is cumulative, so that it is necessary to comply with every duty that applies in any given case. This principle is stated in section 179. One exception relates to the duty to avoid conflicts of interest (section 175). This particular duty does not apply to a conflict of interest arising in relation to a transaction or arrangement with the company. In such cases the duty to declare interests in proposed transactions or arrangements (section 177) or the requirement to declare interests in existing transactions or arrangements (section 182) will apply instead. Section 181 modifies these provisions for charitable companies in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

313.The cumulative effect of the duties means that where more than one duty applies, the director must comply with each applicable duty, and the duties must be read in this context. So, for example, the duty to promote the success of the company will not authorise the director to breach his duty to act within his powers, even if he considers that it would be most likely to promote the success of the company.

314.As well as complying with all the duties, the directors must continue to comply with all other applicable laws. The duties do not require or authorise a director to breach any other prohibition or requirement imposed on him by law.

Relationship between the duties and the company’s constitution

315.Under section 171 a director must act in accordance with the company’s constitution.

316.Companies may, through their articles, go further than the statutory duties by placing more onerous requirements on their directors (e.g. by requiring shareholder authorisation of the remuneration of the directors). The articles may not dilute the duties except to the extent that this is permitted by the following sections:

317.The company’s constitution may also set out the purposes of the company, especially in the case of an altruistic company which has purposes other than the benefit of the company’s members. It is very important that directors understand the purposes of the company, so that they are able to comply with their duty to promote the success of the company in section 172.

Relationship between the duties and the detailed rules requiring member approval of conflicts of interest

318.Under the provisions in Chapter 4 of this Part, the directors must sometimes obtain prior shareholder approval for the following types of transaction involving a director (or, in some cases, a person connected to a director): long-term service contracts; substantial property transactions; loans, quasi-loans and credit transactions; and payments for loss of office.

319.Section 180 provides that:

Relationship between the duties and the general law

320.Section 180(5) provides that the general duties have effect notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law except where there is an express or implied exception to this rule. For example, section 247 provides that directors may make provision for employees on the cessation or transfer of a company’s business even if this would otherwise constitute a breach of the general duty to promote the success of the company.

Consequences of breach

321.Section 178 preserves the existing civil consequences of breach (or threatened breach) of any of the general duties. The remedies for breach of the general duties will be exactly the same as those that are currently available following a breach of the equitable principles and common law rules that the general duties replace.

322.Subsection (2) of that section makes it clear that the duties are enforceable in the same way as any other fiduciary duty owed to a company by its directors (except for the duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence, which is not considered to be a fiduciary duty). In the case of fiduciary duties the consequences of breach may include: