Shaw v The Port Phillip and Colonial Gold Mining Company Ltd: 1884

A company secretary was to procure execution of certificates of shares in accordance with prescribed formalities. A certificate was issued and presented by the secretary in favour of a purchaser in the usual form with signature of director and secretary and bearing the company’s seal. But the signature of the director appended was, in fact, a forgery made by the secretary. The seal had also been affixed without authority of the board. The purchaser in due course lodged the share certificates as security and executed a transfer in favour of the plaintiff. Both purchaser and plaintiff acted throughout in good faith. The company argued that the signature of the director being forged, the whole document was a nullity.
Held: The forgery being by its own employee, the company could not reject the transfers.
Steven J said: ‘It is said in answer that here the secretary carried out his fraud by means of forgery. It appears to me that this fact does not make any material difference. The defendants’ counsel said it did make a difference on the ground, so far as I understand his argument, that nothing can give validity to a forged instrument as against anybody. That does not seem to me to be the case, and I think the authorities cited for the plaintiff are applicable. The company appear in this case to have prescribed certain formalities with regard to the use of the seal and the issue of certificates. The certificate is to be signed by a director and the secretary. In the present case it apparently does comply with those formalities; it is apparently so signed, and it is I stated to be in the usual and authorised form. The company made it the duty of the secretary to procure the preparation, execution, and signature of certificates with the prescribed formalities, and thereupon to issue them to the persons entitle to receive them. They thereby gave the secretary the opportunity of doing what he has done in this case. A person can inform himself whether the certificate comes from the secretary because he gets it from the secretary’s office, but I do not see how, according to any practicable course of business, he can go behind the certificate and ascertain for himself such matters as whether the signature of the director is genuine. It appears to me, therefore, that the company have authorised the secretary, and made it his official duty, to act in such a way that his acts amount to a warranty by them of the genuineness of the certificate issued by him. For these reasons I think the question put to us should be answered in favour of the plaintiff.’
Matthew J commented: ‘I am of the same opinion, on the ground that the company is responsible for the fraud committed by its agent while acting within the ordinary scope of his employment. Upon the statements contained in the case I cannot doubt that it was within the scope of their secretary’s employment to do what he did here. It is stated to have been the duty of the secretary to procure the execution of the certificate with the prescribed formalities, and to issue it to the person entitled thereto. It is obviously indispensable in the ordinary course of business that the secretary should perform these duties, and it never could have been contemplated that the purchaser of shares should himself ascertain that each of the prescribed formalities had, in fact, been complied with. It seems to me, therefore, that the secretary is held out by the company as their agent to warrant the genuineness of the certificate. It was argued by the counsel for the defendants that the fact that the certificate was a forgery prevented their being liable for the act of their agent, but he failed, as it appeared to me, to establish any difference for this purpose between a fraud carried out by means of forgery and any other fraud. For these reasons I am of the opinion that our judgment should be for the plaintiff.’


Steven J


[1884] 34 QB 103


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedRuben v Great Fingall Consolidated HL 1906
The company secretary, to pursue a fraudulent objective of his own, presented to innocent lenders a share certificate appearing to be that of the company and appearing to be signed by two directors as well as by the secretary. However, the seal had . .
CitedStuart Peters Limited v Bell EAT 22-Oct-2008
EAT UNFAIR DISMISSAL: Compensation/Mitigation of loss
The employee was unfairly constructively dismissed. She was entitled to a 6 month notice period that was not paid by the employees in that period, . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 09 November 2022; Ref: scu.374702