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Abrahams v. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (2021)

Jurisdiction: Federal Court of Australia


Side A: Guy and Kim Abrahams (Individual corporation)


Side B: Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Corporation)


Core objectives: Access to a bank’s investment documents to assess its compliance with the Paris Agreement.


Summary
On August 26, 2021, Guy and Kim Abrahams as trustees for the Abrahams Family Trust, shareholders in the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), filed an application in the Federal Court of Australia, seeking access to internal documents under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). The documents relate to the bank’s reported involvement with several projects including a gas pipeline in the US, a gas project in Queensland, a gas field and an oil field, among other projects that potentially infringe the bank’s Environmental and Social Framework (E&S Framework) and Environmental and Social Policy (E&S Policy). In particular, the E&S Framework and the E&S Policy require that the bank carries out an assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the projects and whether the projects are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.


On November 4, 2021, the Federal Court of Australia held a hearing to consider proposed consent orders that had been agreed by the parties in previous correspondence. In essence, the proposed consent orders allow the Plaintiffs to inspect a limited scope of the documents sought at the beginning of the proceedings. The plaintiffs’ legal representative made short oral submissions on the evidence before the Court in order to establish that the plaintiffs were acting in good faith and that inspection was to be made for a proper purpose, as is required by law. CBA made a limited admission to the same effect. On the basis of the limited admission and the evidence before the Court, the Court was satisfied that the plaintiffs met the good faith and proper purpose requirements and made the consent orders. CBA must now produce the relevant documents to the plaintiffs for inspection in two tranches on December 9, 2021 and February 10, 2022. If the documents provided by CBA under these orders do not sufficiently alleviate the plaintiffs’ concerns as set out in their application, the plaintiffs have reserved their right to apply to the Court for production of the balance of documents sought in the original application.

The matter is listed for a further case management hearing on March 10, 2022.
Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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