Supreme Court: Equity’s Darling and Guidance on Enforceability of Trusts where the Institution is Unknown

3 09 2017

Akers & Ors (Respondents) v Samba Financial Group (Appellant) [2017] UKSC 6 (1 February 2017)

In this appeal, Lords Neuberger, Mance, Sumption, Toulson and Collins unanimously held that a trust could be created, exist and be enforceable in relation to assets located in a jurisdiction where the law did not recognise trusts in any form. Many of the issues in earlier proceedings fell away. But nonetheless, because of the shifting focus of submissions, Lord Mance prefaced his lead judgment by describing the issues as “novel and difficult”. Proceedings were brought against Samba Financial Group (Samba) by Saad Investments Co Ltd (SICL) and its Joint Official Liquidators (the liquidators) who were appointed in winding up proceedings in the Cayman Islands which were subsequently recognised in England as a foreign main insolvency proceeding under the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006. Samba sought to stay the claim on the ground that rather than England “there exists another forum [i.e. Saudi Arabia] which is clearly and distinctly more appropriate”. Over the course of time, the ground morphed into the argument that SICL’s claim had no prospect of success and the case proceeded in the Supreme Court on that basis. Similarly, the appeal was presented to the justices on certain assumed facts. Shares valued at approximately $318m in various Saudi Arabian banks were held by Mr Al-Sanea (AS) on trust for SICL which went into liquidation by virtue of which Mr Stephen John Akers came to be one of its liquidators.

AS was the registered owner of the shares in the Saudi Arabian Securities Depositary Centre and SICL claimed that he had agreed to hold these Saudi Arabian shares at all material times on trust. Six weeks after the liquidation, in a series of six transactions, the shares were transferred by AS to Samba to discharge personal liabilities he owed them. Two other assumptions were made. Firstly, that Cayman Islands law governed the trusts. And secondly that the law of Saudi Arabia, the “lex situs” of the shares, does not recognise the institution of trust or a division between legal and proprietary interests. Saudi Arabian law does, however, recognise the institution of amaana – a kind of bailment construable as a trust – but its precise effects remained unexplored in evidence. Relying on section 127 (avoidance of property dispositions, etc) of the Insolvency Act 1986, SICL and the liquidators argued that the transfers of shares were and are void as a result of the “disposition of the company’s property … made after the commencement of the winding up”. The English law doctrine of “equity’s darling” is missing from other jurisdictions where a transfer to a third party might override beneficiaries’ rights, possibly overlooking any equitable interest at all. Read the rest of this entry »