There has been a significant increase in contentious and non-contentious trust matters arising from family disputes in relation to Bermuda trusts. Most often these involve wealthy international dynastic families or family corporations.
The type of matters we see before the Bermuda Courts include applications for variation of trusts or sanctions of a compromise between the trustees and various classes of beneficiary and/or the consent of the court on behalf of minor beneficiaries; applications for directions eg. relating to disclosure or distribution of assets; applications to remove trustees for breach of their duties or recovery assets allegedly lost as a result of breach of the trustees’ duties; and applications to set aside the whole trust on the grounds of fraud, undue influence or the uncertainty and failure of the trust objects.
Recent statutory amendments, introduced by the Companies Amendment Act 2013, mean that Bermuda companies listed on appointed stock exchanges are no longer required to file prospectuses in Bermuda.
Previously, a Bermuda company listed on an appointed stock exchange (which covers many of the world’s major stock exchanges) had to file with the Registrar of Companies in Bermuda a copy, signed by or on behalf of all directors of the company, of any prospectus that had to be filed under the rules of that stock exchange (or pursuant to the rules of the relevant regulator in such jurisdiction). The legislation now in effect abolishes the requirement to also file such prospectus in Bermuda.
A non-Bermudian can only buy a property in Bermuda if they have acquired a licence to do so. This involves applying to the Minister of National Security and paying an application fee which is approximately $1,500 and is refunded if the licence is granted. Once the licence is granted the licensee may purchase a property in Bermuda subject to certain restrictions. Not all property on the market in Bermuda is available to the licensees, and roughly only 5% of the market is accessible. These are generally houses that start at $3.5 million and condominiums that start at around $800,000. The houses must have a minimum ARV (Annual Rental Value) of $177,000 and the condos must have an ARV of at least $32,400 in order to be extended to non-Bermudians. Undeveloped land is not available to non-Bermudians and they are restricted from renting or subdividing the property which they have acquired.
The principle of separate legal personality of a company has been affirmed in yesterday’s Supreme Court case of Prest v. Petrodel Resources Limited, and the principles upon which the court will act to “pierce the corporate veil” have been clarified, but it remains the case that upon divorce, the court will look carefully at the reality of the structure to achieve a fair distribution of assets. The decision has important implications for all those engaged in the trusts and corporate services business.
A unanimous Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal yesterday in the case of Prest v. Petrodel Resources Limited and others  UKSC 34 (400 KB PDF). At stake was the issue of whether it is open to the court, in an application for ancillary relief in divorce proceedings, to treat assets of a company of which one spouse is the sole controller as being assets to which that spouse is “entitled” for the purposes of Section 24(1)(a) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Lying at the heart of the matter are the competing objectives of the commercial and family law divisions, the former of which seeks adherence to established legal principles to ensure commercial certainty for parties dealing at arm’s length, while the latter aims to achieve a “fair result” in circumstances where the parties are dealing at anything but arm’s length.
It has been widely reported that the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, will call upon the British Overseas Territories (BOTs) which are regarded as low tax jurisdictions to “get their houses in order” (The Daily Mail, 5 June 2013) and that offshore financial centres such as Bermuda, Cayman, BVI, Jersey and Guernsey will be urged to “sign up to greater tax transparency” (Royal Gazette, 6 June 2013).
Bermuda has always defended its status as a low tax jurisdiction, and has always made it clear that it is not a tax haven, nor a place where the fruits of tax evasion can be harboured. It is relevant to recall the efforts that Bermuda has made over the last 30 years to justify its claim to being a leading offshore financial centre, not a tax haven.