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The Bill, among other things, aims to provide businesses with the necessary breathing space and flexibility required to continue trading and to comply with their legal obligations in the current challenging conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To achieve this aim, the Bill introduces a number of measures to provide companies with temporary relief from requirements relating to general meetings (including AGMs). Due to the restrictions on gatherings of people, companies are not in a position to hold physical meetings with their members at the moment.
Below is a summary of the key considerations relating to the conduct of shareholder/member meetings (including AGMs) taking place between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 (the Restricted Period) (with the power of the Government to extend this period even further) and the implications of the imminent introduction of the Bill.
If a company is obliged to hold its AGM during the Restricted Period (whether under company law or its constitution), the Bill enables a company to hold the meeting by 30 September 2020 (or any extended date). This gives companies more time to make appropriate arrangements for any AGM (including giving shareholders the appropriate notice (usually 21 clear days’ for a listed plc). However, there may be other matters that may still make it appropriate for a company to need to hold their AGM (or a general meeting) during the Restricted Period. The following should be considered if a company is planning to extend the date of an AGM:
If a company holds a general meeting during the Restricted Period, the Bill expressly permits for “Virtual only” meetings. A “Virtual only” meeting is where all attendees are in different places (connected through a video/tele conference facility) and voting being carried-out electronically or by other means. These provisions override any other law (or provision in a company’s constitution) that prevents a company from holding virtual meetings, so will give companies more flexibility when arranging member meetings during the Restricted Period.
The Bill will reduce the need for a company to hold a “hybrid” meeting (where the minimum number of attendees to form quorum have to attend in person and all other attendees vote via proxy and have access to the meeting by way of tele/video conference), so should simplify how a meeting can be held during the Restricted Period.
Additionally, the Bill will provide that members will not have the right to attend the meeting in person during the Restricted Period. The measures introduced by the Bill will not prevent shareholders from exercising their right to vote on resolutions or other matters brought before the meeting, however, shareholders may instead be required to vote by post or by electronic means to keep the number of persons physically attending a meeting to any required minimum.
The following should be considered if a company is planning to hold a “virtual only” meeting:
The Bill provides for these measures to be retrospective from 26 March 2020 so that any company that has already had to hold a general meeting that complied with social distancing, but in turn did not meet the relevant obligations in their constitution, will have done so in accordance with the law.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at March 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions
02 June 2020
Insights 14 SEPTEMBER 2021