Vedanta Resources Plc & Anor v Lungowe & Ors  UKSC 20: Supreme Court decides Vendanta case on parent company liability for actions of overseas subsidiary can proceed to trial
On 10 April 2019 the Supreme Court issued its judgment in Lungowe and Ors v Vendanta, ruling that claims brought by a group of Zambian citizens against a Zambian mining company and its UK-domiciled parent can proceed to trial in England. The case raises important issues regarding jurisdiction and the potential liability of parent companies in respect of damage caused by their subsidiaries.
In 2015 1,826 residents of the Zambian city of Chingola filed claims alleging that they have suffered damage as a result of toxic discharges from one of the world’s largest copper mines. The mine is owned and operated by the second defendant, Konkola Copper Mines plc (“KCM”), a Zambian company. The first defendant is KCM’s ultimate parent company, Vedanta Resources plc (“Vedanta”), which is domiciled in England. The claimants allege that both Vedanta and KCM are liable under Zambian law for negligence and breach of statutory duty. Vedanta’s alleged negligence is based on its alleged failure to exercise reasonable care in monitoring and controlling KCM.
The claimants served the proceedings on Vedanta within the jurisdiction, relying on Vedanta’s English domicile and article 4 of the Recast Brussels Regulation. The claimants obtained permission to serve KCM out of the jurisdiction, on the basis that it is a “necessary or proper party” to the proceedings against Vedanta. KCM and Vedanta challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts. In 2016, the High Court held that the claimants could bring their case in England, despite the fact that the alleged tort and harm occurred in Zambia, where both the claimants and KCM are domiciled. This decision was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal in October 2017. In April this year, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a further appeal by the defendants, upholding the Court of Appeal’s ruling in all but one respect.
The Supreme Court held that the claimants are entitled to rely on article 4 of the Brussels Regulation to establish jurisdiction in respect of Vedanta. In particular, it is not an abuse of EU law, in a case where there is a triable issue against an English company, to state that the English defendant must be sued in its country of domicile (England), even if one of the principal reasons (although not the sole reason) the case is brought against it in England is so that another defendant can be brought into the jurisdiction, using the English defendant as an “anchor”. If, in doing so, the claimants themselves cause a risk of inconsistent judgments, that is a matter for the claimants.
A crucial question to determine was whether Vedanta sufficiently intervened in the management of the Zambian mine to have incurred a common law duty of care to the claimants, or a fault-based liability under the Zambian environmental, mining and public health legislation. The Supreme Court did not accept the general principles of “parent company liability” advanced by either party, but reiterated that each case must be considered on its own facts, which may (or may not) need to be considered at a full trial after disclosure. In this case, the Court considered that Vedanta would arguably owe the claimants a duty of care, on the basis of the principles articulated in Dorset Yacht Co Ltd v Home Office  AC 1004 (and that the breach of statutory duty claims are also arguable).
Although the Supreme Court considered that Zambia would be the proper place for the hearing of the claims (Vedanta having offered to submit to the jurisdiction of the Zambian courts), the Court upheld the Judge’s finding that there was a real risk that the claimants would not be able to obtain substantial justice in Zambia. No criticism was made of the independence or competence of the Zambian judiciary, nor of the civil law procedures in Zambia. Rather, the Court considered a real risk arose because (i) legal aid would not be available, conditional fee agreements are illegal, and the claimants are too poor to fund legal representation; and (ii) Zambia lacks legal teams of sufficient size and experience to pursue mass claims of this nature effectively.
The effect of the judgment is that the claims against both Vedanta and KCM can proceed in England. The judgment potentially has wider implications, given the number of English-domiciled corporations which operate through overseas subsidiaries around the world. In particular, English parent companies who make public commitments relating to their responsibilities to communities and the environment and then fail to put these into practice, may find themselves facing claims brought by non-UK claimants in the English courts.
Increased Investment in Personal Tax Compliance in the UK (Published in Thought Leaders 4 Private Client)
Advances in technology and increased international fiscal co-operation have made global personal tax compliance initiatives pop up in abundance in recent years. To compound the issue, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding economic fallout prompted domestic governments to increase transparency in relation to investments held by wealthy foreign individuals (with a focus on oligarchs).
In the UK, in the context of the cost-of-living crisis, public opinion certainly seems to be in favour of increased accountability for high-net-worth individuals (eg, on 9 October 2022, 63% of Britons surveyed thought that “the rich are not paying enough and their taxes should be increased”).1
HMRC is one of the most sophisticated tax collection authorities in the world and the department is making significant investments in technology in the field of compliance work; they are well placed to take advantage of new international efforts to increase tax compliance, particularly considering the already extensive network of 130 bilateral tax treaties in the UK (the largest in the world).2 The UK was also a founding member of the OECD’s Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) forum.
This article discusses the main developments in support of the increased focus on international transparency and personal tax compliance in the UK. There are other international fiscal initiatives, particularly in the field of corporate taxation, but such initiatives are beyond the scope of this article.
It should be noted that a somewhat piecemeal approach, with constant tinkering makes compliance difficult for the taxpayer and is often criticised for lacking the certainty that a stable tax system needs to thrive.
This article was first published with ThoughtLeaders4 Private Client Magazine
Tax-Related Measures in the Autumn Statement 2022
On 17 November 2022, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unveiled the contents of the Autumn Budget 2022. This comes after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its world economic forecast on 11 October 2022. The IMF expects the British economy to grow 3.6% in 2022 and 0.3% in 2023. Other major developed economies are also expected to stagnate next year, namely Spain (1.2%), the US (1.0%), France (0.7%), Italy (-0.2%) and Germany (-0.3%).
This note focuses on tax measures included as part of that statement.
Offshore Structures and Onward Gifts
The so-called “onward gift” tax anti-avoidance rules were introduced by the Finance Act 2018 to complement the changes brought in the previous year aimed at restricting the UK tax privileges afforded to non-UK domiciled individuals. The rules were designed to close some perceived loopholes in relation to the taxation of non-UK resident structures (including but not limited to non-UK trusts). With effect from 6 April 2018, it would no longer be possible for an individual to receive a gift without questioning its providence, particularly where family trusts are involved.
The rules were designed to prevent non-UK structures from using non-chargeable beneficiaries as conduits through which to pass payments in order to avoid tax charges. Gone are the days of “washing out” any trust gains that could be matched to offshore income or gains by prefacing a payment to a UK-resident taxable beneficiary with a non-taxable primary payment to a non-UK resident beneficiary.
“It is notoriously challenging to prove a negative (especially to HMRC) and even more tricky where the taxpayer must speak to someone’s intention other than their own.”
Note that the new rules will apply where funds are received from non-UK resident structures before 6 April 2018 to the extent that they are subsequently gifted after that date.
Increased Investment in Personal Tax Compliance in the UK
Changes in public opinion, advances in technology and increased international fiscal co-operation have made global personal tax compliance initiatives pop up in abundance in recent years. In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding economic fallout have prompted governments to increase transparency in relation to investments by wealthy foreign individuals in their countries.
The UK’s HMRC is one of the most sophisticated tax collection authorities in the world and the department is making significant investments in technology in the field of compliance work.
It should therefore be well placed to take advantage of new international efforts to increase tax compliance, particularly against the backdrop of the already extensive network of bilateral tax treaties in the UK, and not forgetting that the UK was a founding member of the OECD’s Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) forum.
This article discusses the main developments in support of the increased focus on international transparency and tax compliance in the UK. There are other international fiscal initiatives, particularly in the field of corporate taxation, but such initiatives are beyond the scope of this article.
Case note: Lynton Exports (Alsager) Ltd v Revenue and Customs Commissioners  UKFTT 00224 (TC)
As HMRC continue to apply the Kittel principle to increasing numbers of industries and businesses, taxpayers need to be vigilant about evidential requirements that HMRC must fulfil in order to discharge their burden of proof. Read JHA’s latest insight into the First-tier Tribunal’s decision in Lynton Exports (Alsager) Ltd v Revenue and Customs Commissioners  UKFTT 00224 (TC).
If you require any further information about the Kittel, Mecsek, and Ablessio principles, or any other allegations by HMRC of fraud or fraudulent abuse, please contact Iain MacWhannell (email@example.com).