We recently attended a webinar by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) on 20 July 2020. The purpose was to discuss some reforms to the rules and in particular the new “Urgent Measures Act”.

The purpose of the new changes are to support the Government as part of its business response to COVID by encouraging growth through investment. So there are some simplifications made to the normal OIO process– while also ensuring there are rules in place in relation to sensitive land and other categories of assets.

Before we get into detail it is worth noting that the guides on investing in New Zealand at the OIO website are quite helpful, for example, this one on which transactions need consent.

Overview

There are four key changes:

1. Temporary Emergency Notification Requirements;
2. New national interest assessment;
3. Simplified screening; and
4. Stronger enforcement powers.

In this article we will set out the key points for each of them.

1. Temporary Emergency Notification Requirements

Notification is required in relation to ownership/control there are (no monetary thresholds) and will be needed for increases above 25%, ownership beyond 50%, 75% or to 100%. They said that this is a deliberately broad approach they said. This is a temporary regime which will only apply for a limited time.

Who needs to notify? This should be done by any person who has more than 25% overseas ownership, are non-citizens and non-residents, and have more than 25% control of a board, as well as those who are associates.

What needs to be notified? Purchase of more than 25% of a business, increases in key thresholds (above) and purchase of more than 25% of the property of an NZ business (including land interests that would not be sensitive).

When to notify? 16 June is when legislation came into force, so only for those deals after that.

What do you not need to notify? If you already have consent, or if you need consent under another criteria.

Examples of when notice is needed:

Direct: An overseas entity buying all shares of an NZ company – needs to be  notified, even if a shell company.

• Indirect: Overseas person buying an Australian company that has an NZ entity – need to notify (ie even though already overseas owned).

• Notification of property: If a company is being bought that has property, then you need to notify. If a lease to an overseas person, then it depends if that is more than 25% of the value of the NZ companies property at the NZ Company.

There is no cost to notify and there is a form online. There is a much higher level of information needed than normal. It will take around 35-40 minutes to fill in the form. The type of information required includes type of transaction, if there is a target entity, the investor themselves etc.

Once submitted, they will assess if more details are needed or if the transaction can be approved. Generally this takes around 10 days (if the transaction can proceed). A few applications may be allowed to proceed subject to conditions. A few applications may be denied or need more information.

If more information is required, then you will need to allow a total of 40 working days and the aim is to resolve all within 70 working days.

If a transaction is not notified, there can be serious implications. The highest penalty would be civil penalties of up to $10million.

2. National interest assessment

The OIO emphasised that they want investments to proceed. So the question they ask is going to be:  “Is the transaction  is contrary to the national interest?” This test will be applied:

• If further assessment is needed;
• If it is a strategically important business; and
• If the Minister of Finance wants to ask more questions about an application.

The OIO will look broadly at factors such as competition, social impacts, character of the investor, national security, public order, international relations, alignment with NZ values and interests as well as broader policy settings. The factors are very broad. As an example, they would look more closely at military technology investments than other investments.

An application could have conditions added to manage risks, or it could be prohibited or it could just proceed without conditions.

3. Simplified Screening

This simplified screening includes that low risk transactions that do not need consent eg small increases in shareholding. There are also automatic standing consents for eg listed entities that are not more than 50% owned overseas, land adjoining sensitive land, managed investment schemes and some debt transactions.

As an example, if an overseas person is buying land next to sensitive land, that may qualify for the automatic standing consent. Also, some loans and debt can qualify for automatic consent.

4. Enforcement powers

These are increased, such as adding enforceable undertakings as a possibility as well as maximum penalties including  (changing from $300,000 to $500,000). For a company, it could range from $300k to $10 million. The reason for this is that breaches are serious and so the penalty reflects that.

Conclusion

Overall it appears that the intention is to allow easier investment in New Zealand. However, as you can see from the detail in this short update it is worth speaking with advisors about the particular context as there are likely to be additional points to consider to ensure you qualify for the simpler regime.

For more information the OIO website has a lot of detail. For example, the above is discussed here https://www.linz.govt.nz/overseas-investment/changes-overseas-investment-act.

Please note that this is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Please feel free to contact us on 03 348 8480 or by email to Steven Moestevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrisonkrismorrison@parryfield.com

 

“Simply by sailing in a new direction, you could enlarge the world…” Allen Curnow

Steven Moe has just collaborated with Craig Fisher to produce this paper, which can be downloaded here. The paper looks at challenges faced by the crisis, poses 7 hard questions we need to be asking and examines where the opportunities are.

From the Introduction: “Covid-19 is forcing us to  ask some hard questions. Our focus in this paper is on charities, NGOs, NFPs and community sector organisations as it has accelerated conversations for them about sustainability. However, many of these concepts will apply to other organisations as well in this unique moment in time.

Early explorers like those described in the quote who sailed to new placed relied on charts, maps, stars. We also are headed towards new locations as a result of the crisis and we need to be asking the right questions to get there. In this paper we want to dive deep into some key issues that we see organisations are facing in order to provide a constructive framework for considering the future.

We don’t have all the answers. But there are lots of fantastic minds, skills and experience within our sector. Hence, we hope that some of the questions and provocations that we pose within this paper will further assist firing up some lively neurons to help organisations change and thrive.” 

About the authors:

Steven Moe is a Partner at Parry Field Lawyers with 20 years experience and a focus on empowering impact.  He has worked as a lawyer in Wellington (3 years), London (3 years), Tokyo (4 years), Sydney (4 years) and since 2016 based in Christchurch.  He hosts the podcast seeds with 180+ interviews and wrote the book “Social Enterprises in NZ: A Legal Handbook.  He is Chair of Community Finance (impact investing with a social housing focus) and shared some of his journey here.  His profile has more: https://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-moe-0b3b008a/

Steven can be contacted on:
stevenmoe@parryfield.com
T  +64 21 761 292

Craig Fisher FCA: Craig is a Consultant with RSM and a professional director with a strong interest in governance, audit and assurance, and sustainability of impactful organisations.  He is a Fellow Chartered Accountant with nearly 30 years of public accountancy experience, a former Audit Partner, and the former Chairman of the RSM New Zealand group.  Passionate about a strong and healthy Aotearoa he holds a range of interesting governance roles.  More details of his experience can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigfishernz/   

Craig can be contacted on:
craig.fisher@rsmnz.co.nz
T  +64 21 899 848

The Government recently introduced a one-off loan for businesses and organisations impacted by Covid-19. Applications must be made by 12 June 2020 through myIR.

  • Eligible applications can receive $10,000 plus $1,800 per full-time employee with a maximum loan amount of $100,000.
  • Once approved, most applications will receive the funds within 5 working days.
  • Applicants will have 5 years to pay off the loan with an annual interest rate of 3%.
  • The loan will be interest free if paid off within 1 year.
  • Repayments are not compulsory for the first 2 years.
  • You can choose to borrow the maximum amount or a small portion.

These loans are also accessible for NFP, Charity, NGO entities who meet the criteria. IRD recently attended a hui organised by one of our Partners, Steven Moe, and in the video here they explain how the system works and run through slides describing it. The relevant parts are:

00:00 Introduction from Steven Moe

02:14: Stewart Donaldson from IRD overview of what they are involved in currently

05:25: Rata Kamau from IRD with an overview of the Small Business Loan Scheme

20:40: Rata and Stewart answering questions.

Those thinking of applying should obtain financial advice to determine whether this is appropriate for their situation.

Click the following link to start your application.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist in your journey. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Aislinn Molloy at aislinnmolloy@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

In part one and two of our articles on buying and selling a business we looked at both the important issues and what the agreement for sale and purchase should cover.  In part three, we will consider the impact of Covid-19 and how it has affected the buying and selling process and further points that need to be considered during these unprecedented times.  Whether you are considering selling or purchasing a business, or you have just started the process, the following should be taken into consideration:

Due Diligence

In part one, we explored the importance of due diligence and key questions that should be asked. The effects of Covid-19 should not alter your approach to carrying out due diligence, in fact it may be that a more rigorous approach is taken by buyers to understand the implications Covid-19 has had on the business and how it would fare if another situation like this were to happen again. When carrying out due diligence, both seller and purchaser should be mindful that more time may be required to undertake and complete the process due to the restrictions in place, as the ability to obtain information such as important documentation or carrying out physical inspections may not be possible right away.

Material Adverse Change Clauses

As we are in the midst of the unknown, agreements between buyer and seller will be subject to greater scrutiny and negotiation. The inclusion of material adverse change (MAC) clauses in an agreement is likely to be of particular interest, especially to a buyer. A MAC clause is used to reduce risk and uncertainty for buyers during the period between the agreement and the date the deal closes. Such clauses give the right for the buyer to walk away from a deal. For a seller, taking the current climate into consideration the inclusion of such a clause should be drafted carefully, thinking about what is considered to be a change and looking to the future and the potential of a similar situation occurring again.

Finance

As a buyer, if you are obtaining finance from a third party such as bank, it may take longer and become more difficult. In these uncertain times, banks may be reluctant to lend or may seek additional requirements are satisfied in order to obtain approval. Therefore, it important that the sale and purchase documentation covers the risks that are associated with lending during this time.   For example, the seller may want to include a break fee, if finance is unable to be obtained by the buyer. Where a buyer may want the ability to walk away from the deal and have a financing out condition. It will be up the parties to balance the risk and reach an agreement that they are both comfortable with.

Warranties

In this current climate, sellers may be reluctant to agree to warranties about the state of the business, as the long term effects of Covid-19 on a business may not be known for some time. While for buyers it may be that they look at additional situation-specific warranties in relation to this pandemic. Warranties will be subject to robust negations even more so than before, therefore again, it will come down to the parties being able to find the right balance in terms risk.

Other Conditions

The uncertainty for many businesses during this time may see the inclusion of other conditions in a sale and purchase agreement. Such conditions may relate to maintaining current suppliers or current employees.

Conclusion

As the restrictions ease, many are still trying to navigate their way through the unknown.  It is difficult to know the long term implications of Covid-19 and effects that it will have had on the businesses that survived the lockdown period. Therefore, it will be important for those looking to buy a business to ensure they have done their ‘homework’. While sellers will need to be upfront and ensure they are covered if a situation like this were to ever occur again.

We often help both buyers or sellers of businesses and in this unique context would be happy to talk about your situation to make sure the agreements work well.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist in your journey. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison at krismorrison@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

When an employer is considering making an employee(s) redundant, there are three key steps they need to get right:

  1. Following the terms of the employee’s employment or collective agreement and, in particular, what it says about making employees redundant.
  2. Making sure that the reasons for the redundancy are “genuine”, rather than, for example, simply a cover to remove an underperforming employee. In other words, being able to demonstrate that any redundancy is genuinely justified on the basis of valid commercial grounds.
  3. Following a fair and reasonable process.

At the centre of this is being clear from the start about why a redundancy may be needed in the first place.

This may seem obvious but not infrequently we see employers coming unstuck at this point.  They are unclear and/or imprecise, sometimes in their own minds but, more frequently, when communicating with the employee, about why exactly they are proposing to remove a role and what evidence they are relying on to back up that proposal.

The law is clear that it is not enough for an employer to say or show that it genuinely believes a redundancy is required.  While an employer is entitled to make their business more efficient, whether or not the business is in financial dire straits or not, an employer must still:

  1. Be able to clearly advise the employee, and with sufficient detail, about what the relevant issues are, giving rise to a possible redundancy;
  2. Provide the employee with accurate evidence substantiating those issues; and
  3. Give employees a real opportunity to be able to comment on those issues and, in particular, put forward alternative proposals if they are able to.

This means that, in general, it is not enough to simply advise the employee in broad, imprecise terms, as to why a redundancy is proposed.  For example, to simply say that the employer has reviewed the business and redundancies are necessary to “streamline” the business, improve efficiencies or to save costs.

While those – making a business more efficient or saving costs – can be valid reasons for a restructure, the employee is entitled to know more on the how and why.  The courts have been clear that:

“there must be made available to the other party sufficient information to enable it to be adequately informed so as to be able to make intelligent and useful responses” or, put another way, there must be “the provision of sufficient information to fully appreciate the proposal being made and the consequences of it and, secondly, an opportunity to consider that information and, thirdly, a real opportunity to have input into the process before a final decision is made.”

Consequently, in the example given, this may include providing information on:

  • What the employer’s review of the business showed? What issues were revealed?  For example, “over the past 6 months, we have experienced an X% downturn in work in these areas.  This is as a result of the loss of the X and Y contracts, which, on re-application, were re-tendered to Z Group.  The effect of this on the company is that revenue has dropped over the same period by an average of by X% and productivity by X%.  We are anticipating that these figures will continue over the next Y months because ….” 
  • The evidence the employer has that demonstrate those issues, such as current and projected revenue or productivity figures?
  • What does the old and new employee structure look like under the restructuring proposal? For example, are other roles proposed to be removed? Who will undertake the employee’s existing role (if the duties under it are still required by the employer)?
  • How would removing the employee’s role help address the issues identified by the employer?
  • Have any options, other than removing the employee’s role, already been considered?
  • Could the employee be redeployed?

In our experience, where employers get this right, it reduces an employee’s disquiet and, consequently, the likelihood of an employment relationship issue arising.  It also helps employers make better decisions, more accurately identifying what changes are actually needed and how best to implement them.

Finally, there are some limits on the information employers are required to provide employees.  For example, information which would breach the Privacy Act 1993 or commercially sensitive material, the disclosure of which would unreasonably prejudice the employer’s commercial position.

In these cases, certain information may need to be redacted, before being provided to the employee or, in some circumstances, there may be grounds to withhold particular information altogether.  We recommend however that employer gets advice before doing so.  It is not enough for an employer to simply say they believe withholding information is necessary.  That decision can also be scrutinised and will need to “stack up”.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist you with your employment matters. Please feel free to contact Hannah Carey at hannahcarey@parryfield.com or Carly Armstrongcarlyarmstrong@parryfield.com

The Government has announced several urgent insolvency and corporate law changes in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, in an attempt to keep solvent businesses afloat during this turbulent economic period. These include:

  • permitting electronic signatures where necessary;
  • giving entities unable to comply with their constitutional obligations because of the pandemic temporary relief;
  • giving the Registrar of Companies authority to extend deadlines imposed by legislation
  • amending sections 135 (“reckless trading”) & 136 (“duty to relation to incurring obligations”) of the Companies Act 1993 to afford directors greater comfort when making difficult decisions regarding their ability to continue to trade;
  • bringing forward changes to the voidable transactions regime; and
  • introducing the business debt hibernation scheme.

Once enacted, the Government has confirmed their application will be given retrospective effect from 3 April 2020.

Changes to Directors’ Duties

In light of concerns directors may prematurely place companies into liquidation for fear of personal liability incurred should they continue to trade or to take on new obligations, two significant amendments have been made to sections 135 & 136 of the Companies Act 1993.

  • Section 135 places an obligation on directors to abstain from agreeing, causing or allowing for a company to be operated in a manner likely to create a substantial risk of serious loss to the company’s creditors.
  • Section 136 places an obligation on directors to abstain from taking on a new obligation if they do not believe, on reasonable grounds, that the company will be able to fulfil its obligations under the arrangement.

Under the  announcement, directors who continue to trade (including the taking on of new obligations), will be afforded a “safe harbour” period from potential claims providing these criteria are met:

  • the directors consider, in good faith, that the company is or will likely face significant liquidity problems in the next six months due to the pandemic;
  • the company was able to pay its debts as they fell due on 31 December 2019; and
  • the directors consider in good faith that it is more likely than not the company will be able to pay its debts as they fall due within 18 months (for example, utilising the business debt hibernation scheme to get the business back on track).

This “safe harbour” is to be enacted for (initially) a six month period. Notably, directors must continue to act prudently and in good faith in their dealings with creditors, as all other directors’ duties continue to apply including the duty to act in good faith and in the best interests of the company under s 131.

How the change to section 136 will be drafted will be of great interest to directors of companies currently under pressure as a result of the lockdown. The requirement that director(s) be satisfied that “…the company will be able to pay its debts as they fall due within 18 months” may be challenging for directors, who will have to show they has maintained appropriate financial records consistent with the size and nature of the company, that their assumptions are reasonable and (where appropriate)the directors have acted on advice. Contracts with longer-term obligations such as  leases may not fall within the safe harbour period so directors need to be prudent when accessing longer-term obligations, whether existing or new.

With this in mind, it is important to keep accurate and up-to-date financial information. This includes reasonable budgets and forecasts for the next 18 months. This will allow directors to reach an informed decision on the company’s likelihood of being able to meet its debts as they would fall due in 18 months.

Changes to sections 135 & 136 come at a time when directors are increasingly concerned about their civil liability when dealing with third parties while their business is struggling. Often this results in directors prematurely resigning and appointing an external administrator. This is in part due to the recent High Court decision in Mainzeal Property and Construction Limited v Yan discussed here under which the directors of Mainzeal Property Limited were collectively ordered to pay NZ$36 million for a breach of section 135.

In December 2019, the Companies (Safe Harbour for Insolvent Trading) Amendment Bill was proposed with a view to alleviating directors’ concerns regarding their liability when deciding to continue trading, notwithstanding the company being insolvent. This Bill reduces directors’ civil liability when a company is (or will become) insolvent and its directors undertake new debts in an attempt to improve the company’s position. It remains unclear what extent the amendments mentioned hereinabove will reflect contents of this Bill.

Changes to the Voidable Transaction Regime

According to the current voidable transaction regime, a liquidator can “claw-back” payments made from the debtor company to its creditors two years before its liquidation. It has been proposed to shorten the two year vulnerability period to six months when the debtor company and the creditor are unrelated parties. Originally, this change was contained in the Insolvency Law Reform Bill, however the Government has included it amongst the recent changes because of the increase of liquidations predicted.

Business Debt Hibernation

The Business Debt Hibernation Scheme (“the Scheme”) is to be introduced to the Companies Act 1993 to supplement the relief measures that already exist between creditors and businesses. Debt hibernation effectively allows businesses to place their existing debts into “hibernation” until they are able to start trading again.

With the rationale of enhancing a company’s ability to stay afloat in the face of the pandemic, the scheme aims to:

  • increase discussions between creditors and directors;
  • enable directors to keep control of their companies rather than appointing an external administrator;
  • encourage continued trading between the company and its creditors by providing certainty to both parties; and
  • be simple and flexible.

Companies wanting to participate in the Scheme will have to meet certain criteria. This has not been announced in full, but it is expected to include:

  • the business would have been solvent had the Pandemic not occurred;
  • it would be in the best interests of the business (including its ability to pay creditors) for the business to enter debt hibernation;
  • the creditors of the business will need to be notified of the company’s intention to enter into the Scheme;
  • once the company notifies its creditors of their intention to enter into the Scheme a one-month moratorium will take effect immediately while creditors cast their votes;
  • consent must be obtained by at least 50% of creditors;
  • if the business obtains the consent of 50% of creditors, the Scheme becomes binding on all creditors, except employees, and there will be a moratorium on the enforcement of debts for a six month period once the proposal is passed; and
  • further payments made by the company to third party creditors during the Scheme will be excluded from the voidable transactions regime – this affords third party creditors with greater protection that, in the event of the company’s insolvency, the advance will not be clawed back.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. Should you need any assistance with this, or with any other commercial matter, please contact Peter van Rij at petervanrij@parryfield.com or Tim Rankin at timrankin@parryfield.com

Some of the hardest hit by the current Covid-19 crisis are small and medium sized businesses.  The Government has confirmed that they can now apply to their bank for a loan under the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme (the Scheme), set up by the Government in an effort to protect jobs and support the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Scheme works alongside the Wage Subsidy Scheme which is already available to businesses. The Scheme’s purpose is to help businesses with cash flow and operating expenses in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Not all businesses are eligible for the scheme, however if you are a business with an annual revenue of between $250,000.00 and $80 million you can apply to your bank for a loan of up to $500,000.00 for up to three years. The bank will determine your eligibility and determine the amount available to borrow. Applications under the Scheme are now open and are available until 30 September 2020, or until all available funds, being $6.25 billion, have been exhausted.

Applications under the Scheme can be made through your bank’s website and a standard lending process will be followed through the bank’s credit assessment process to determine eligibility. In addition, banks will take into consideration your circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The interest rate and other terms of the loan will be determined by the bank under their normal lending criteria.  Of course a basic question needs to be asked – does your business need more debt or can it survive without taking that on?

This is important to think through because all this really means is that the process is similar to getting a normal loan from the bank – the difference being the Government has agreed to guarantee 80% of the risk in relation to each loan with the remaining 20% to be guaranteed by the bank. If a business defaults on their loan under the Scheme, banks will follow normal enforcement procedures and it is likely that as a part of the loan process and terms the bank will have obtained personal guarantees (usually from company directors) or other security (for example a General Security Agreement over the assets of the Company) that they can enforce before relying on the Government guarantee of the loan. The guarantee provided by the Government is essentially a protection for banks who might not otherwise provide loans to companies and not as a protection for the businesses who are the ones that actually take out the loans.

For more information regarding this scheme you can refer to your bank’s website. Participating banks are ANZ, ASB, BNZ, Heartland Bank, HSBC, Kiwibank, SBS Bank, TSB and Westpac.  If you’d like to talk through your current position and options then you can always contact us.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. We would be happy to assist you in your journey. Please feel free to contact Luke Hayward at lukehayward@parryfield.com or Emma Piercey (nee Garlick) at emmapiercey@parryfield.com.

A few weeks ago not many of us had even used Zoom video conferencing – today it has become a daily way of checking in with colleagues or clients, or holding large scale meetings, even virtual Friday drinks.  In fact it has gone from 10 million users in a day to 200 million.  But from a legal perspective is there anything we should be aware of and what is the best practise when it comes to keeping our communications secure?

Here we are going to talk about some of the recent incidents and explain some of the features of Zoom that might help.  We also want to consider the recording function on Zoom – does that mean you can just record anything?  We will finish off with some other things we have noticed when using Zoom – including privacy considerations.

Recent incidents involving Zoombombing

Zoombombing is where someone uninvited joins a call and disrupts the meeting.  With a lot more use there are a lot more things being reported.  In Singapore some online classes were Zoombombed recently.  In the US a small community – where everyone pretty much knows each other – held an event due to the lockdown, and had people join it and share inappropriate images.  When the people were kicked out of the meeting they came back in posing with names of legitimate people from the community, and continued posting so the meetings had to shut down.

It seems likely that this will increase in future – and if you have a larger meeting then it is more likely the invite has been forwarded on to others who might take advantage of the platform provided by your meeting.

So what are some strategies to keep communication safe?

There are a few things you could try doing – some within the app itself and others are just common sense.  These include:

  • Set a password – while this adds an extra administrative task for those joining the call, it is also an extra level of protection as you can require people to enter a password.
  • Have a waiting room – if you do this then you can see who wants to join the call, and it allows an extra way to vet people before they join. Particularly if there is some reason to worry someone might come uninvited it is worth considering.
  • Keep your ID secret – When sending out information just send the unique meeting ID without also including your personal meeting ID, that will help to stop people trying to log into another room of yours at other times.
  • Other tools – it is possible to mute everyone, disable screen sharing by others apart from the host, or lock out some people – have a play around with the settings.
  • Use another platform? Remember when Skype was first introduced?  It was the original Zoom and still is there, providing another way to hold video calls with people.  Other ways we see being used include Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger.  While we haven’t used these we know that Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are also good.  If you are worried and the calls are with one other person mainly then those might be options to consider. Of course, similar privacy and security considerations will apply no matter which platform is chosen.

It is important to implement such strategies, especially if you are discussing the personal information of others. In the current situation, many workplaces are trying to maintain the approach of business as usual as much as possible through the use of Zoom. Therefore, you need to be mindful when discussing personal information of clients or customers, even if this occurs in an internal meeting, that you adhere to Privacy Principle 5 in the Privacy Act 1993. This principle is designed to protect personal information from unauthorised use or disclosure.

Generally the zoombombing happens when there is a widely shared link for the public to attend and learn more about a topic – those are easy prey.  If you are having a small meeting or are confident that the links are going to a limited number of people then this is less likely to be an issue.

What about recording?

Just because you can record doesn’t mean you should if you don’t have consent.  Obtain that at the start of each call if you are going to record.  In New Zealand, the Privacy Commissioner has put out this briefing on “can I record someone without telling them” here.   The basic principle is simple: get consent.

Privacy principle 3 in the Privacy Act 1993 is the most relevant and provides, among other things: “Where an agency collects personal information directly from the individual concerned, the agency shall take such steps (if any) as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that the individual concerned is aware of …the fact that the information is being collected; and the purpose for which the information is being collected; and the intended recipients of the information …”

The Zoom privacy policy notes this about recording: “Your meetings are yours. We do not monitor them or even store them after your meeting is done unless we are requested to record and store them by the meeting host. We alert participants via both audio and video when they join meetings if the host is recording a meeting, and participants have the option to leave the meeting.” 

The key principle here is simple: Let people know that you are recording and get their consent.

Privacy & Security

While the technical side can be confusing, Zoom provide guidance on how they encrypt things here.   It is also worth taking a look at their privacy policy here.   It’s always fascinating to get past the corporate language to read the actual wording – the nuts and bolts – of how they operate.  Some of the key things are:

  • They don’t sell personal data and only collect user data needed to provide the services;
  • They do not monitor meetings but do allow users to record them; and
  • They have a separate policy that applies to children and younger users;

It’s interesting to read in some of the detail of what features there are – for example there is an attention tracker: “This feature … places a small clock icon next to a participant’s name to indicate only to the host when Zoom is not the active window on the participant’s computer for more than 30 seconds, when the host is sharing their screen.”

The CEO of Zoom published this post recently and committed to openness and transparency and they do seem to have taken a number of steps.  Part of that said: “Transparency has always been a core part of our culture. I am committed to being open and honest with you about areas where we are strengthening our platform and areas where users can take steps of their own to best use and protect themselves on the platform.”

Virtual Backgrounds

When we think about privacy one other way is to make use of the virtual background feature of Zoom – that stops people seeing your private space. Remember if things get recorded then screen shots and recordings can stick around for a long time.  Virtual backgrounds help.  You can choose images provided by Zoom or create custom ones.  It can be a useful tool to know how to use.

How to change Zoom background on your desktop app:

  1. In the Zoom app, click your profile in the top right corner, and click icon (settings).
  2. A menu will appear to the left, click ‘Virtual Background’.
  3. Default background options provided by Zoom will appear. You can choose one of those by clicking on it (ensure ‘I have Green Screen’ is unticked).
  4. Alternatively, you can upload your own photo. Click the + icon next to where it says ‘Choose Virtual Background’. A box will appear allowing you to upload a photo from your computer. Click on the one you want, and it will appear alongside the other pictures as an option for you to choose from.

How to change Zoom background on your mobile app:

  1. You need to be in the meeting to change your background.
  2. Click on ‘More’ in the bottom right hand corner, then click on ‘Virtual Background’.
  3. Default options are provided, or you have the option of uploading your own picture from your Camera Roll.

The ability to change backgrounds in Zoom has seen many get creative in order to lighten the mood in these uncertain times. Whether you want to hide the mess that lurks behind you, or you would just like to pretend for the next while you are on that tropical vacation that you never got the chance to take.  You might even want to be in a scene of your favourite TV show!  The options are truly endless. Why not bring a bit of excitement to meetings, and keep your colleagues guessing by changing up your Zoom background every time?

Conclusion

This crisis has introduced many new things and accelerated the adoption and use of certain technology like Zoom.  While that move is likely to be permanent and in person meetings may reduce – why travel from Christchurch to Auckland for a meeting if it can be done simply from home?  It does pay to be aware of the different features that make holding your meetings more secure and also ensure you do not fall on the wrong side of the law when it comes to recording them.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com or Kris Morrison at krismorrison@parryfield.com should you require assistance.

The role of the Notary Public in New Zealand could not be better described than as follows:

A notary public (sometimes called a notary or a public notary) in New Zealand is a lawyer authorised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in England to officially witness signatures on legal documents, collect sworn statements, administer oaths and certify the authenticity of legal documents usually for use overseas.

The primary task of a Notary Public in New Zealand is therefore to “officially witness signatures on legal documents … ”. Best practice has in the past demanded a physical appearance by the person before a Notary Public witnessing the signing of a legal document. The appearer (“applicant”) must also identify themselves to the Notary, providing evidence by documents and circumstances sufficient to satisfy the Notary that the applicant is who she/he claims to be. Such evidence has been demanded by notaries since 2750 BC. ii How, though, is this service performed in crises such as we are now experiencing, during which personal contact is not possible? Before examining some newly minted suggestions about possible methods to allow continuance of notary work from the Notary Society, a few general observations may be of interest regarding witnessing and identification.

Witnessing Signatures : Identification: The Problem of Fraud

To officially witness signatures and identify people who appear before you may at first sight appear to be a simple task. However things are not always simple. The person appearing before a Notary may not be who they appear to be, even in New Zealand.

They called him “The Doctor”. Based in Bangkok, for years hunted the man “revered among Bangkok’s criminal underworld for producing the most sophisticated forged travel documents on the market for just $2,000-$3,000.” Hidden in a secret compartment were 173 passports from France, Israel, New Zealand, Iran and Syria, and a cache of electronic chips, moulds for visa stamps, ribbons, inks and specialist printing equipment.

Therefore the Notary will take care to identify the person appearing before her or him, by asking for several forms of identification, and scrutinising documents in great detail, even to the point of using a magnifying glass or UV light. One flaw to look for is a slight shadow at the edge of the photograph, which may not be ascertainable on a valid passport.

In Australia documents establishing identity for notarial purposes have been attributed points, with Passports, Citizenship Certificates, and Firearm Licences at the higher end 70 points, Rates Notices and Utility Accounts at 20 points, and Motoring Association Cards and Taxation Assessment Notices at 10 points.

Covid-19 Crisis and Notarial Service

Given the mandatory isolation requirements and restrictions on movement resulting from the Government’s Covid-19 virus Alert Level 4, and the consequences of the Epidemic Preparedness (Covid-19) Notice 2020 issued by the Prime Minister of New Zealand on 25 March 2020, and given that notarial services are not in the category of being considered “essential”, it is not currently possible for a notary to lawfully be present with the applicant when asked to witness a signature on the document.

One method may to meet an applicant by audio-visual link and describe in the Notarial Certificate which system (Skype or Zoom) was used.

The Notary may then ask the applicant to scan and email complete copies of the document(s) together with copies of identification such as the photograph page of their passport, driver licence or other form of identification.

The applicant must then identify themselves by name and hold up to the camera the photograph and personal identification page from passport and driver licence, and these, of course, must match. If the Notary knows the applicant very well this may not be necessary.

As well, each page of the document to be signed must be held up to the camera, and also match.

As New Zealand Notaries may only practice within New Zealand, the Notary may request additional evidence, if this is in doubt (for example, the applicant could hold in sight a local newspaper dated the same day as the appointment or walk outside and point the device’s camera at parked cars with NZ number plates).

The applicant must then place the document down on a desk in view of the camera and the Notary must witness the applicant signing the jurat page and initialling each preceding page, holding each page of the signed and initialled document up to the camera.

The Notary will qualify the Notarial Certificate with the rider that she/he had seen the applicant sign, as far as it was possible to do so by following these procedures.

After the signed and scanned document is printed and notarised, the Notary (or the applicant) should arrange a courier service for the transfer of the hard copy to either the Te Tari Taiwhenua: (Department of Internal Affairs), or back to the applicant as applicable (subject to any Governmental restriction on the use of courier services).

Ken Lord at Parry Field Lawyers is a Notary Public and would be delighted to assist with your witnessing requirements.

Implications of the Covid-19 lockdown

In property transactions, each party must sign an Authority and Instruction form allowing their respective lawyers the ability to make changes to a property’s title on their behalf. Physical signatures on these documents must typically be witnessed by a lawyer or Justice of the Peace. However, in response to the Covid-19 situation, interim guidelines issued by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) record that Authority and Instruction forms can be signed by means of an electronic signature — until at least these guidelines are revoked. Alternatively, wet-ink physical signatures will need to be witnessed over a video link.

The Government has also made a temporary law change to modify the requirements of witnessing and signing wills and enduring power of attorneys (EPAs). These changes allow wills and EPAs to be signed and witnessed using audio-visual links (for example Zoom, Facetime and Skype etc). For further guidance on how these documents can be witnessed and signed,  it is explained here for wills and explained here for EPAs.

In terms of statutory declarations and affidavits, it appears that these may be administered electronically — however, physical signatures would still be required. As above, signatures in these cases need to be witnessed over a reliable video link .

It is still understood that powers of attorney and enduring powers of attorney (and presumably Wills and the like) cannot be signed electronically.

If anything is not clear here then we would be happy to discuss with you — as usual individual circumstances usually mean that the context is important to consider.

This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should contact your lawyer about your specific situation. Please feel free to contact Steven Moe at stevenmoe@parryfield.com should you require assistance.