A more recent version of these Lifting The Veil notes – written by Oxford students – is available here.
The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Company law Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:
Lifting the veil Occasionally the courts will compromise the principle in Salomon and allow remedies against the shareholders in respect of company liability or against the company for shareholder liability. Manager liability, where the directors are personally liable, is not lifting the veil. Lifting the veil is where members are liable for the company or the company is liable for the members.
Statutory lifting the veil Senior Courts Act 1981 s.51 enables a court to make a costs order against those who sit behind the company where they have used the company as a vehicle for legislation without considering whether the company had an independent interest in the legislation and knowing it would be unable to meet the costs of failure. (Very limited circumstances) Most of the law on lifting the veil has been created by the courts: Adams v. Cape Industries
1. A claim by tort creditors, this is the leading case on lifting the veil.
2. Court of Appeals said that can lift the veil for a sham/facade company or if there is and agency relationship. But the corporate veil cannot be lifted on the basis of a single economic unit argument or in the interests of justice.
a. Sham / facade Woolfson v. Strathclyde
House of Lords Lord Keith said that it is appropriate to pierce the corporate veil only when special circumstances exist indicating that a company is a facade to conceal the true facts. On this basis Lord Keith said that he doubted the Country Appeal decision in DHN.
Gilford Motor Co
The company was held to be shown when it was used to try and dodge existing obligations. The corporate veil could be lifted.
Jones v. Lipman
The company was held to be a sham when it was used to try and avoid existing restrictive covenants. The veil could be lifted.
Adams v. Cape Industries
1. A claim by tort creditors against several companies in the cape group.
2. Held that for one of the companies the veil could be lifted and for another it could not.
3. Where the court did lift the veil, the company was found to be a sham because it had no business of its own, it was just a name on the invoice, the company was merely a break between Cape and different parts of its operations.
4. Where the court refused to lift the veil, the Court of Appeal said that although the company had clearly been set up to reduce future liability exposure, the fact that this arrangement was not moral did not matter. The veil cannot be lifted if the arrangement has been done to ensure that future liability will fall on another member of the group. This is fine. But the arrangement cannot defend already existing claims. In Adams v. Cape Industries the Court of Appeal did not specify what would be required to constitute a sham, but it seems that if the motive behind the company is improper then it is more than likely to be a sham. The more recent cases seem to focus on impropriety. Gencor v. Dalby
A director was diverting money to a company which he owned; on the basis this meant he had not personally received the money.
Held that the company was a sham. It had no life of its own, no employees and was a vehicle for the directors' impropriety.
Trustor v. Smallbone
Entitled to pierce the corporate veil and recognise a receipt as that of the individuals in control if the company was a facade to conceal the true facts thereby avoiding or cancelling any liability of the individuals.
Anglo German Breweries
Consistent with Trustor v. Smallbone
Kensington International v. Republic of Congo i.
A company set up to carry out a series of fictitious transactions to try and protect the government of the Republic of Congo
ii. Held that there was such dishonesty that there could be no problem finding it to be a sham.
But the veil exception seems to be narrow. VTB Capital v. Nutritek
The principle is a limited one which has been developed pragmatically to enable a practical solution in particular factual circumstances.
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