Dublin firm assists cross-border AGM

Dublin firm William Fry helped bring about the first cross-border television link of a company's annual general meeting last week.

The AGM of Waterford Wedgwood, held in London on 30 April, is believed to be the first to be electronically linked to shareholders overseas.

The company has been a client of William Fry for many years and has 40 per cent of its shareholders based in the UK.

It held an AGM in London two years ago, which had been a success, said managing partner Brian O'Donnell, “but several Ireland-based shareholders complained that they could not travel to the meeting”.

Last week in Dublin, Ireland-based shareholders watched the London meeting – and questioned directors afterwards, via a video-conference link.

However, O'Donnell said they were not allowed to vote or take part in the meeting. “If they had, the meeting could have been declared invalid.”

Currently there is no legislation in Ireland or the UK which allows for such electronic links. As a result, Irish trade minister Mary Harney has agreed to look at changing the law, to allow shareholders from different jurisdictions to participate in meetings simultaneously.

The lack of legislation was an anomaly, said O'Donnell, since when it came to board meetings, “it has been accepted for many years that directors can participate by electronic means”.

As for AGMs he said: “The only occasion when the matter was addressed was in a UK court case, where the judge ruled that shareholders not physically present at a meeting could only participate by electronic means if the original venue for the meeting proved inadequate to accommodate them all.”

But that judgement did not cover pre-arranged links nor those based in two different jurisdictions, said O'Donnell.