Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler

Two Scottish Cases: (1) Heavy Criticism for a Liquidator who Bypassed the Court to Obtain Remuneration and (2) Proper Court Procedure Catches Out Administrator

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Although these two cases are much more for readers north of the Border, it seems to me that principles arising from the first case – that officers of the court have greater concerns than simply getting paid and that IPs and solicitors should be always alert to conflicts of interest – are relevant to many more of us.

Heavy Criticism for a Liquidator who Bypassed the Court to Obtain Remuneration
Re Quantum Distribution (UK) Limited (In Liquidation) [2012] CSOH 191 (18 December 2012)
http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2012/2012CSOH191.html

Summary: The judge in the Court of Session hoped that the publication of his opinion “will discourage a repetition of the unacceptable events” (paragraph 1). Lord Hodge’s criticisms were leveled primarily at a liquidator who had bypassed the court to obtain his remuneration from a newly-formed liquidation committee despite a very critical report from the court reporter. He also criticised the petitioning creditor’s solicitors, who also acted for the IP on some matters, for failing to make clear to the liquidator his need to take separate legal advice when they were in a position of conflict of interest.

The Detail: The court only learned of the events when the Auditor of Court raised his concerns with Lord Hodge. The Auditor had produced “a most unusual report” that concluded that, in light of the concerns identified by the court reporter, he was unable to report what would be suitable remuneration of the liquidator.

The court reporter’s concerns included questions regarding a settlement for the insolvent company’s ultimate parent (“QC”) to pay £50,000 each to the liquidation and to the petitioning creditor (“IEL”), although it was unclear what direct claim IEL had against QC. The reporter criticised the liquidator for charging time for brokering the deal, which he suggested was not an appropriate agreement, to the general body of creditors; for failing to disclose the settlement to creditors; and for adjudicating IEL’s claim without taking into account mitigating factors. He also suggested that the petitioning creditor’s solicitors appeared to have a clear conflict of interest in also acting as the liquidator’s adviser and that the petitioning creditor “had been allowed to exert undue influence over the liquidation” (paragraph 23).

However, it appears that, despite receiving the Auditor’s report declining to report what would be suitable remuneration, the liquidator did not make enquiries into what the court reporter’s concerns were, but instead he convened a meeting of creditors to form a liquidation committee and obtained approval for his fees from the committee, which the judge considered was “not acceptable behaviour” (paragraph 36). Lord Hodge expressed concern that the liquidator and the solicitors showed “a striking disregard of their obligations to the court. It appears that nobody applied his mind to why the Auditor said what he did or showed any curiosity as to what the court reporter had said in his report. The concern, as the emails show, was simply how to get the liquidator his remuneration” (paragraph 37). The judge’s opinion was that, as officers of the court, the liquidator and the solicitors’ staff should have brought the concerns of the court reporter to the attention of the court.

The liquidator was also criticised for failing to disclose the full terms of the settlement to the liquidation committee. In addition, it seems that the liquidator had failed to recognise that the compromise needed the court’s approval.

In reviewing the solicitors’ position, Lord Hodge commented that “solicitors who act in an insolvency for both the petitioning creditor and the insolvency practitioner need to be much more alert to the dangers of conflict of interest… It may be acceptable for a firm of solicitors so to act when the petitioning creditor’s claim is straightforward and not open to dispute. But where the claim is complex and is open to question, the potential for conflict of interest should bar the solicitor from so acting. In my opinion claims for damages for breach of contract often are of that nature, particularly where, as here, they entail a claim for loss in future years” (paragraph 40).

Proper Court Procedure Catches Out Administrator
Re Prestonpans (Trading) Limited (In Administration) [2012] CSOH 184 (4 December 2012)
http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2012/2012CSOH184.html

Summary: Is it correct to seek remedy under S242 (gratuitous alienations) by means of a petition? The judge decided that it was not, but he left open the question of whether the consequence should be that the joint administrator should begin the process again, given that no prejudice, inconvenience or unfairness would flow from continuing with the petition process.

The Detail: The joint administrators petitioned that an assignation granted by the company amounted to a gratuitous alienation under S242. Counsel for the respondents sought dismissal of the petition with the argument that the remedy is available only by way of summons, not by petition.

The case turned on the interpretation of rule of court 74.15, which states that applications under any provision of the Insolvency Act 1986 during an administration shall be by petition or by note in the process of the petition lodged for the administration order. The judge compared the wording of the rule of court prior to the 2002 Act, which listed the applications that should be made by motion in the process of the petition (because, of course, pre-2002, all administrations were instigated by petitions). Lord Malcolm then concluded that rule 74.15 “covers an application which relates to the supervision of, and is incidental to the administration, such as those specifically mentioned in the pre-existing rule; and does not apply to proceedings brought by administrators under sections 242 and 243 of the 1986 Act” (paragraph 10).

However, Lord Malcolm questioned whether, in this case, it followed that the proceedings should be dismissed as incompetent. He acknowledged that, “in the present circumstance, when no prejudice, inconvenience or unfairness would flow from persisting with the current petition, it would be unfortunate if the petitioners were required to begin again before the same court, albeit in a different form of process, with all the consequential extra expense and delay” (paragraph 16), however the rule of court remains. He invited the parties to address him further on this issue and concluded that this case supported the call for the abolition of the distinction between ordinary and petition procedure in the Court of Session.

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