What is unfairly prejudicial conduct entitling a shareholder to relief from the Court – and are such claims indemnified under the company’s D&O Policy?

8 April 2024
By Fenchurch Law

Successive versions of the Companies Act (most recently Section 994 of the 2006 Act (“CA 2006”)) have provided protection and relief for minority shareholders against unfairly prejudicial conduct of the company’s affairs by majority/controlling shareholders and the board of directors.

However, the petitioning shareholder has the burden of establishing such conduct.

The recent case of Re Cardiff City Football Club (Holdings) Ltd [2022] EWHC 2023 (Ch) (summarised below) emphasises that (i) even if a majority shareholder’s conduct is vindictive, unpleasant or morally unfair, it does not always follow that it will be classed as unfairly prejudicial and (ii) the conduct of a majority shareholder, even if unfairly prejudicial, must be within the affairs of the company itself, and not merely carried out in his or her personal capacity.


Mr Issac was a minority shareholder in Cardiff City Football Club (Holdings Limited) (“the Company”) which is the holding company of Cardiff City Football Club (“the Football Club”). He brought a petition against Vincent Tan and the Football Club on the grounds that Company’s affairs had been conducted in a prejudicial manner. The claim related to an open offer of shares made by the Company following a board resolution in May 2018. Mr Tan was the majority shareholder of the Company who before the offer of shares owned 94.22% of the issued shares. No other shareholders took up the offer of shares. This increased Mr Tan’s shareholding to 98.3% and Mr Issac’s was reduced from 3.97% to 1.18%.

Mr Issac argued that this dilution was prejudicial because the value of his shares was diminished. He argued that the whole offer was arranged by Mr Tan due to his animosity to Mr Issac rather than for any proper commercial purpose. Whilst the Board of Directors approved the offer, Mr Issac contended that it had merely “rubber stamped” Mr Tan’s decision, in breach of Section 173 of the CA 2006, which requires directors to exercise their own independent judgment, and of Section 171 of the CA 2006, which requires an allotment of new shares to be for a proper purpose.

Mr Tan denied these allegations. He argued that he provided consideration for the new shares issued to him by agreeing to write off £67 million which was owed to him by the Company. Therefore, Mr Tan argued there was a good commercial purpose behind the offer – which improved the Company’s balance sheet – and it was not because of any animosity towards Mr Issac. and that the directors had exercised their allotment power for a proper purpose.

Mr Issac sought an order that Mr Tan should buy his shareholding for a fair value. He sought an order for sale on the basis of a 3.97% shareholding as opposed to a 1.18% shareholding.


In deciding whether there was any unfair prejudice, the Court asked the following three questions:

  1. Was Mr Tan’s conduct the conduct of the Company’s affairs?
  2. Did the directors act independently?
  3. Did the directors act for a proper purpose?

Was Mr Tan’s conduct the conduct of the Company’s affairs?

The Court answered that question in the negative.

Mr Issac argued that Mr Tan used his position as a majority shareholder to put pressure on the Board to give in to his demands. However, the Court held that this could not be seen as conduct of the Company because these acts were a personal or a private act. The Court cited Re Unisoft Group Ltd (No. 3) [1994] 1 BCLC to distinguish between the acts or conduct of a company and the acts of a shareholder in his private capacity. The Court held Mr Tan was entitled “qua” shareholder and creditor to exert commercial pressure and act in his own interests.

The Court acknowledged that Mr Tan did have personal animosity to Mr Issac, which was part of the reason he made the open offer of shares, and that his conduct was vindictive and unpleasant.

However, the Court held that there was nothing unlawful or unconscionable in Mr Tan’s actions, and that what he did was unfair in a moral but not in a legal sense.  There was no Shareholders’ Agreement, and no provisions in the Articles of Association had been infringed. Accordingly, there was no breach of anything referable to the affairs of the Company.

The mere fact that respondents have caused prejudice to the petitioner does not always mean there has been unfairness. So, where two companies were always run as a single unit in disregard of the constitutional formalities of both of them, but with the acquiescence and knowledge of the petitioners, there was prejudice, but no unfairness (Jesner v Jarrad Properties [1992] BCC 807)

Conversely, conduct by those in control of the company may be unfair and reprehensible but not prejudicial. So, where directors entered into transactions pursuant to which (despite obvious conflicts of interest) they purchased company assets, this was unfair but no section 994 remedy was granted, as the price paid by the directors was not less than the company would have obtained from an arm’s length purchaser (Rock Nominees Limited v RCO (Holdings) Plc (In Liquidation) [2004] 1 BCLC 439 CA).

Did the directors act independently?

The Court held that the directors did act independently. There was a justifiable commercial rationale for what the Board was being asked to do.  Board minutes were prepared in advance of the meeting, but there was nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as the Board had the opportunity to take its own view as the meeting developed.

Did the directors act for a proper purpose?

The Court decided that the directors did act for a proper purpose.

The Court cited Howard Smith v Ampol Petroleum [1974] AC 821, which held it would be “too narrow an approach to say that the only valid purpose for which shares may be issued is to raise capital for the company“.

The allotment of the shares was deemed as being for a proper purpose, namely clearing debt owed to Mr Tan. This would improve the Company’s balance sheet and provide greater financial stability.

Therefore, the Court concluded that there was no unfair prejudice.

Impact on D&O Policyholders

Directors’ and Officers’ (D&O) policies will usually respond if there has been a claim made for a wrongful act by a director, provided the director has been acting in that capacity (rather than as a shareholder). The policy will likely provide indemnity or defence costs of any director against such allegations, which is important protection as such costs cannot lawfully be met by the company.

However, in this case, because Mr Tan was held to have been acting in a personal capacity (rather than as a director in the conduct of the Company’s affairs), his costs are unlikely to have been indemnified under the Company’s D&O policy.

Ironically, the very grounds relied upon by Mr Tan and the nature of the Company’s defence would themselves have excluded the right to indemnity for defence costs under the policy, and the directors would have to seek reimbursement of costs from the unsuccessful petitioner.

This case serves as a reminder that personal acts of directors, outside the scope of their directorial duties, cannot be relied upon in claims for minority shareholder relief, and nor will they be indemnified under the company’s D&O policy, if the subject of third-party claims.


Michael Robin, Partner

Ayo Babatunde, Associate