The RBS rights issue litigation: A missed opportunity for choice of law re privilege to go up to the UKSC.

Update 6 January 2018. Thank you Gordon Nardell QC for signalling that the CA has given leave to appeal in [2017] EWHC 1017 (QB) Serious Fraud Office (SFO) v Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd. The issues there are  summarised by Gordon’s learned friend Christopher Newman here. Appeal in SFO v ENR will give an opportunity to the Court of Appeal to address many of the same privilege issues – although not perhaps lex causae.

Welcome to this end of 2018.

Thank you Kate Wilford for flagging [2016] EWHC 3161 (Ch) The RBS Rights issue litigation. The litigation concerns a rights issue of shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland (“RBS”) which was taken up in 2008. By the various actions, shareholders in RBS seek to invoke statutory remedies against RBS under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (“FSMA”) whereby to recover substantial investment losses incurred further to the collapse of RBS shares. The prospectus for the Rights Issue was argued not be to accurate or complete.

The case at issue was held December 2016 but has only now come to my attention. Of note to this blog is one of the three issues that were sub judice: whether RBS is entitled to rely on the federal law of the USA as the law applicable to the particular issue, and if so, whether under that law the claim of privilege is maintainable: Hildyard J referred to this as “the Applicable Law Point”. It is discussed under 129 ff.

As Kate notes, the issue was concerned with the availability of legal advice privilege over records of interviews conducted by US lawyers in a fact-gathering investigation. RBS contended that the English court should have applied US privilege rules, which would have afforded the interview records a much broader degree of protection against disclosure.

I reviewed privilege and applicable law in my post on  People of State of New York v. PriceWaterhouseCoopersalbeit that in that case the toss-up was between different States’ law, not federal law. Hildyard J discusses the English 1859 authority Lawrence v Campbell: lex fori applies. Particular attention is paid to the in my view rather convincing arguments of Adam Johnson (who has since taken silk) as to why this 1859 authority should no longer hold, see 145-147.  Yet his arguments were all rejected, fairly summarily. RBS’ lawyers proposed an alternative rule (at 137): “Save where to do so would be contrary to English public policy, the English court should apply the law of the jurisdiction with which the engagement or instructions, pursuant to which the documents came into existence or the communications arose, are most closely connected.”

Rome I or II did not feature at all in the analysis – wrongly I believe for there could have been some useful clues there and at any rate the applicable law rules of the Regulations certainly apply to the litigation at issue and should have been considered.

Now, there seems to have been consensus that the case was Supreme Court material – however RBS did not pursue the point. We’ll have to wait therefore until another suitable case comes along which I imagine should not be too long in the making.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1.

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