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July 2014

Requirements or inducements for (especially listed) company boards to adopt a minimum number or proportion of "independent" directors (IDs), who are not executives as well as free from other relationships that might impede their capacity to exercise independent judgement on behalf of the company as whole, are spreading through the Asian region. This is rather curious, as many countries (including in fact Australia) have a tradition of large non-institutional blockholders, which typically have the capacity and incentive to exercise shareholder rights to extract information and influence the management and direction of the company. The need for IDs is therefore reduced, compared to countries with more dispersed shareholders, such as the US and especially the UK. However, blockholders can take advantage of dispersed shareholders, so the latter (or policy-makers more generally) may still press to have more IDs on boards. Yet blockholders can be expected to lobby to resist such measures, and anyway the impact of IDs on corporate performance may be less in such jurisdictions.

This backdrop may explain the difficulties in introducing requirements for IDs into Japan, despite calls for more IDs in the wake of corporate failures (such as Olympus) and the enactment of the Companies Reform Act on 20 June 2014 (after extensive deliberations). But it is also consistent with the history and reality of IDs in Australia's listed companies. Below is the Abstract for a detailed draft paper comparing Australian developments, co-authored with my colleague Fady Aoun, for the Berlin conference / book project on "IDs in Japan and other Major Asian Jurisdictions" (click here for a PDF of our Powerpoints), as well as the third joint research conference for USydney, UGeneva, Harvard and Renmin Law Schools (hosted in Beijing over 11-12 July: click here for an audio file of my 13-minute presentation by video link).

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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