Coulthard, Ashton Shuttleworth, and Dawes v Neville Russell (a Firm): CA 27 Nov 1997

Auditors who were in a position to advise a company’s directors as to the legality of them making loan payments to a shell company which was acquiring there shares had a duty so to advise. The directors of a company sued them for failing to warn them that a loan made by the company might constitute a breach of section 151 of the Companies Act 1985 and thus should have led to a qualified audit report: their claim was for the loss which disqualification proceedings consequent upon the breach of section 151 had caused them. The auditors sought to strike out the claim on the ground that it was no part of auditors’ duties to protect directors personally from the consequences of their mistakes and wrongdoing. The auditors succeeded.
Held: On appeal the court allowed the directors’ appeal. The complaint involved an allegation that the existence of the loan should have led to a qualified report: ‘I remind myself that this is an application to strike out . . In my view the liability of professional advisers, including auditors, for failure to provide accurate information or correct advice can, truly, be said to be in a state of transition or development. As the House of Lords has pointed out, repeatedly, this is an area in which the law is developing pragmatically and incrementally. It is pre-eminently an area in which the legal result is sensitive to the facts. I am very far from persuaded that the claim in the present case is bound to fail whatever, within the confines of the pleaded case, the facts turn out to be. That is not to be taken as an expression of view that the claim will succeed; only as an expression of view that this is not one of those plain and obvious cases in which it could be right to deny the plaintiffs the opportunity to establish their claim at trial.’
Chadwick LJ
Times 18-Dec-1997, [1997] EWCA Civ 2837, [1998] 1 BCLC 143, [1998] PNLR 276
Companies Act 1986 151
England and Wales
Cited by:
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Updated: 26 April 2021; Ref: scu.143236