Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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Re Parmeko Holdings Limited: when are administrators’ proposals “futile”?

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Re Parmeko Holdings Limited & Ors (In Administration) (6 September 2013) ([2013] EWHC B30 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/B30.html

Recipients of R3 Recovery News will have seen a report on this case by Amy Flavell of Squire Sanders. In her article, Amy referred to the fact that the judge passed comment on the proposals “casting doubt on the utility or effectiveness of a number of standard form proposals” used by many administrators. I’ll cover those comments here.

Background

Firstly, a summary of the case: the administrators sought direction as regards their proposals, which had attracted no response from any creditors at all. Cooke HHJ confirmed that, just as an administrator is entitled to exercise his statutory powers in such a manner as he considers best for fulfilling the purposes of administration before he puts his proposals to creditors, so too can he continue to use those powers in the event that creditors do not vote on his proposals. “If and when proposals are approved then he is required by paragraph 68 to manage the affairs of the Company in accordance with those proposals, but if no such proposals are approved then he is not so constrained and he must act in accordance with his own discretion” (paragraph 11).

This does not contradict with the earlier decision in Lavin v Swindell (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-k), which involved administrators seeking the court’s direction because creditors had voted against their proposals and Cooke HHJ acknowledged that an administrator also may want to refer to the court in instances where “some specific question arises as to what he should do” (paragraph 13). However, the judge felt that this was not such a case, although he did acknowledge that the administrators required approval of the basis of their fees, which he granted with no particular comment.

The judge’s comments on the proposals

The judge stated that:

• No purpose is served in seeking sanction or direction to make payments, when and if available, to the secured and preferential creditors, as this is a statutory power (paragraph 16);

• He had “grave doubts as to the utility” of placing before creditors the proposals in relation to exit procedures. “The proposals as set out in this case do no more than set out the mechanisms provided by Sch B1 for exit, and leave it to the discretion of the administrator to make any choice between them that may be available in the circumstances as they transpire. That is not, in any positive sense, a proposal at all, nor does it in truth set out anything the administrator ‘envisages’” (paragraph 17);

• Stating that the administrators would become liquidators in any subsequent CVL is the default position unless the creditors nominate someone else, “so putting such a proposal to the creditors achieves little more than conveying information” (paragraph 18);

• Including a permissive proposal that the administrators may apply to court for sanction to pay a dividend to unsecured creditors simply provides “and indication to the creditors of an available option” (paragraph 19);

• “There must be some doubt as to the appropriateness of inviting the creditors at the commencement of the administration to agree a date upon which the administrators should be discharged from liability… It seems to me that the creditors can only sensibly consider this question when they know what the effect will be, which in turn means that they should be in a position to know what has gone on in the administration and form a view as to what if any potential claims might be affected by the release. They plainly cannot in most cases do this at the first meeting of creditors” (paragraph 20). The judge stated that “where as here the creditors have not fixed a discharge date, an application must be made to the court” (paragraph 21) at the appropriate stage.

• He also declined to comment on whether remuneration should be appropriately dealt with by way of proposal or by separate resolution, but he confirmed that the court could deal with it as a separate matter from the proposals.

Cooke HHJ finished by highlighting the need for administrators “to consider carefully what is the utility of an application to the court for directions” and, in his view, “it would be appropriate, if the administrator has to report to the court that his proposals have not been approved by the creditors, simply by virtue of what has been described as ‘creditor apathy’ in that the creditors did not express a view one way or the other, to say in that report whether he considers that anything useful would be served by seeking an order of the court pursuant to paragraph 55.2, and that if he does not, that he does not intend to make such an application” (paragraph 24). Personally, I think it would be a good start if the Notice of Result of Meeting of Creditors, Form 2.23B, provided for disclosure of unapproved proposals, as the current template only provides for approved or rejected outcomes, but this won’t be the first time that some fudging of a standard form has been necessary.

Comment

I think that this decision reveals a difficulty with the Rules around administrators’ proposals. Stepping back for a moment, I wonder if the drafter originally envisaged administrators’ proposals operating in a similar manner to VA proposals. It seems to me that R2.33 is a checklist of items to include in proposals resembling R1.3 and the idea in Para 53 is that the creditors would decide whether to reject or accept, with or without modifications, the administrators’ proposals… which reads very much like S4 regarding CVAs. It seems to me that the Act/Rules suggest a single statement of proposals from an administrator, which creditors are asked to reject, approve or modify as a whole, rather than the evolved practice of providing creditors with two parts: a report on the administration to date and a summary of points sometimes described as the administrators’ “formal” proposals on which creditors are asked to vote (which practice may have been a spin-off from the pre-Enterprise Act administration regime, where much of the detail was annexed to the administrator’s proposals).

However, I think there’s a key reason why this format – of creditors voting on a single statement of proposals – doesn’t really work for administrations: compared with VAs, the process, powers, and purposes of administration are far more well-defined by statute. This doesn’t seem to leave much for creditors to vote on and therefore, as Cooke HHJ observed, there is little point proposing matters to creditors which simply reflect statutory provisions. An example of this conflict arose a few years’ ago when HMRC was in the habit of seeking modifications to proposals that the administration would exit to CVL, but in some cases it was not statutorily possible for this to happen (at least not via Para 83), because the administrator did not think there would be a dividend. I understand that HMRC now seeks modifications that the exit be some form of liquidation, which gets around this problem, but I think it raises an issue: what exactly is up for modification?

The way the Rules are designed, it seems that we risk creditors trying to force administrators to act contrary to statute by seeking modifications to proposals, as statute seems designed so that the entire statement of proposals, covering all R2.33 items, is up for consideration, even though many items are merely for information purposes, either because they are statements of fact or because they simply describe what the administrator is bound to do by statute; I’m thinking, in particular, of Para 3 which describes the hierarchy of objectives, which the administrator must pursue. In some respects, ‘creditor apathy’ may have avoided more applications to court for directions.

Another issue identified by this decision is: what are administrators to do if their way is not clear at the time of issuing the proposals? For example, as Cooke HHJ observed, proposing to creditors that they approve a plan to leave the administrators with full discretion to decide the appropriate exit route is pretty futile. However, if the administrators truly do not know how best to exit when the proposals are due, what do the Act/Rules expect them to do: seek the court’s sanction to postpone their proposals until they are certain or perhaps plump for a sensible exit route and, if that later turns out to be inappropriate, ask creditors to approve revised proposals? Both these options seem a waste of time and expense to me and in conflict with the idea of being up-front and honest with creditors. So, given that R2.33 requires an administrator’s proposals to include “how it is proposed that the administration shall end”, it really does seem to me that the most sensible approach would be to make a best guess at the most likely appropriate exit route and seek to retain the discretion to choose an alternative route (but not exits that clearly will not be appropriate to the case in hand), if things change. I can see that this isn’t much of a proposal, but I suggest that, just as Cooke HHJ felt that creditors should not be asked to agree a discharge date at such an early stage in the administration, so too should administrators not be expected to identify, at the most 8 weeks into a case, the final exit route in all cases.

I wonder if the Rules could be revised so that they more clearly distinguish between what creditors are being asked to approve and what administrators are simply going to do in order to meet their statutory obligations, including importantly, I think, the hierarchy of objectives of administration. If only we could get back to non-prescriptive, non-checklisty Rules that focus on the purpose of reports, proposals, etc…


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Exercise of court’s discretion to allow creditor’s action to continue despite Interim Order and Other Judgments

1116 Sunset

Some recent court decisions:

Dewji v Banwaitt – under what circumstances will the court allow a creditor’s action to continue despite an IVA Interim Order?
Masters & Beighton v Furber – can a debtor be forced to hand over assets caught by IVA?
Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors – does an IP acting in an informal capacity avoid TUPE?
O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney – fixed charge receivers’ agents’ “worrying conduct” scuppers sale
Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited – will the court terminate an Administration and hand back the company to the directors despite the Administrators’ wishes for it to continue?
Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA – does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?
Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse – which takes precedence: a CVA term requiring a Supervisor to decide on set-offs or the enforcement of an Adjudicator’s decision?

Creditor’s interim charging orders made final despite IVA Interim Order

Dewji v Banwaitt (29 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3746 (QB))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2013/3746.html

Mr Banwaitt had obtained judgment in proceedings against Dr Dewji for fraudulent misrepresentation in relation to an agreement under which Mr Banwaitt had paid to Dr Dewji sums for the purchase of land in Cambodia. Mr Banwaitt then obtained interim charging orders over three properties, but before the charging orders were made final, Dr Dewji was granted an Interim Order. However, at the hearing on the charging orders, the Master granted leave under S252(2)(b) of the Insolvency Act 1986 for Mr Banwaitt’s action to continue and exercised his discretion in making the charging orders final.

Dr Dewji’s request for permission to appeal the charging orders was refused. Mrs Justice Andrews accepted that usually the overriding principle would be that all creditors of a single class should rank equally once a statutory scheme had got underway. However, she noted that “there may be situations in which, despite the Interim Order, the ‘first past the post’ approach is justifiable” (paragraph 45). She suggested some scenarios: where a judgment creditor were seeking to recover monies paid under a contract that had been rescinded for fraud, “the Court might take the view when exercising its discretion that it would not be in the interests of justice to allow the debtor’s other creditors to participate in that share of his estate that was increased at the expense of the party he deceived” (paragraph 29) or where “the asset against which the judgment creditor is seeking to execute judgment falls entirely outside the IVA, so that there is no question of it being shared between the general body of creditors. Another, quite independent, example would be where the IVA was bound to fail, either because the judgment creditor had sufficient voting power to block it by himself, or because the creditors as a whole or a majority of them were bound to regard it as unattractive” (paragraph 39).

What Dr Dewji had proposed for his IVA led the judge to conclude that the Master had been justified in exercising his discretion in favour of the creditor. “The question that the Master had to determine is not whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt have an advantage over the general body of creditors. It is whether it would be unfair to let Mr Banwaitt, (who, on the evidence before the Master, was the only Investor induced to part with his money for this project by deceit, and who alone has chosen to expend costs in pursuing its recovery from Dr Dewji) obtain final charging orders over property that was not going to be distributed between Dr Dewji’s creditors, but (in the case of one property only, Dale Street) utilised to raise money to pay foreign lawyers to try and recover a substantial sum of money that would then be shared equally between Dr Dewji himself and some of those creditors, including the judgment creditor” (paragraph 47).

IVA debtor was not free to resist realisation of assets

Masters & Beighton v Furber (30 August 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3023 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3023.html

The Joint Supervisors of Mr Furber’s IVA sought an order requiring Mr Furber to allow the collection of some of his vehicles that, in accordance with the terms of the IVA, had been sold. The Joint Supervisors had also been granted a power of attorney to enable them to deal with Mr Furber’s assets. Mr Furber refused to allow the vehicles to be collected, claiming that he entered the IVA under pressure and that the vehicles had been sold at an undervalue.

Purle HHJ acknowledged that, in one sense, Mr Furber could choose to default on the IVA, with a potential consequence of being made bankrupt. However, as counsel for the applicant put it, “unless the process of disposal of the vehicles is concluded, there is a risk that the successful bidders will withdraw their bids and thereafter demand return of all monies paid, as well as possibly seeking damages. Ironically, if, as Mr Furber says, the value of the vehicles was higher than the sum that has been achieved by the online auction process then there will be a claim for loss of bargain by the successful bidders” (paragraph 9). With the risk of increasing creditors’ claims in mind, the judge agreed to order the release of the vehicles: “In my judgment, requiring Mr Furber to comply with his obligations under the IVA and the power of attorney will be in the best interests of his creditors generally and maintain the authority of the supervisors who are effectively, if not in law, officers of the court” (paragraph 11).

IPs acting in an advisory capacity not sufficient to avoid TUPE

Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited v Middleton & Ors (16 October 2013) ([2013] UKEAT 0249)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0249_13_1610.html

Bulmers Transport Limited ceased to trade on a Friday and on the following Monday Ward Brothers (Malton) Limited started to perform Bulmers’ major contracts using some of its former employees. Before Bulmers had ceased to trade, it had been presented with a winding up petition and had sought the advice of IPs. It seems that, although Administration had been contemplated, this was abandoned around the time that trading ceased. Some ten days later, different IPs were appointed Administrators by the QFCH.

The key question for the Appeal Tribunal was: did the involvement of IPs fit the TUPE exception, “where the transferor is the subject of bankruptcy proceedings or any analogous insolvency proceedings which have been instituted with a view to the liquidation of the assets of the transferor and are under the supervision of an insolvency practitioner” (Regulation 8(7) of TUPE)?

The Appeal Tribunal supported the original Tribunal’s conclusion that the first set of IPs had been acting only in an advisory capacity and that Bulmers had not been under the supervision of an IP at the time of the transfer.

The Appeal Tribunal also appreciated that “it is regrettable that so much uncertainty exists” (paragraph 20) as regards the application of TUPE and acknowledged “the importance of establishing, if possible, a red line”. They felt that the principles in Slater v Secretary of State for Industry, whilst not formally binding, “command considerable respect; and we respectfully agree that what is there set out is an appropriate and sensible red line and is the correct principle to apply. It is consistent with section 388, which, as we have said, provides that a person acts as an insolvency practitioner in relation to a company by acting as its liquidator, provisional liquidator, administrator or administrative receiver; if not appointed as such, then a person is not acting as an insolvency practitioner” (paragraph 23).

In the summary to the decision, it states that “an appointment (formal or informal) was necessary before there could be said to be supervision by an insolvency practitioner”. Personally, I struggle to see how an IP can be informally appointed and acting in a S388 capacity. The body of the decision states: “Clearly, that red line is not an entirely straight line. There may be disputes, for example, as to whether an insolvency practitioner was on the facts, appointed before a formal letter of appointment was provided or even drafted” (paragraph 24), so perhaps that is what is meant by an “informal” appointment.

The consequence of this decision in this case was that the appeal was dismissed: there had been a transfer that was not subject to the TUPE exclusion as regards the transfer of employee claims to the transferor.

Fixed charge receivers’ sale process tainted by agents’ “worrying conduct”

O’Kane & O’Kane v Rooney (12 November 2013) ([2013] NIQB 114)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/QB/2013/114.html

The O’Kanes sought an injunction restraining the joint fixed charge receivers from selling a property.

The judge was presented with evidence, albeit most of it hearsay but nonetheless “very strong”, which the judge described as showing “worrying conduct”, “very curious behaviour indeed”, and even “bad faith” (paragraphs 8, 9, and 10). The criticisms were levelled at the joint receivers’ agents who seemed to have discouraged some parties from bidding, provided inaccurate information, and allegedly advised the highest bidder not to increase its bid during the open bidding process, stating that the bidder would win out at the lower figure.

Although the O’Kanes’ proposal was complex and it was argued to be unrealistic, the judge viewed the previous sealed bid process to be tainted. He granted an injunction restraining the sale and directed that the property should be remarketed and sold by way of private treaty, with a bidding book being maintained and exhibited to the court for its approval of the sale. He directed that there should be no involvement of the individuals named, although he did not go so far as to require a new firm of agents to be instructed.

Administration terminated and company handed back to directors despite outstanding fees and expenses

Re Hotel Company 42 The Calls Limited (18 September 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3925 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3925.html

Joint Administrators were appointed on the application of a creditor. All creditors’ claims were paid or waived, although no monies passed through the Joint Administrators’ hands, as they were dealt with by third parties.

The shareholder and director wanted the company returned to them and the administration terminated, given that its purpose had been achieved, but the Joint Administrators were reluctant to rely simply on their statutory charge as regards their unpaid remuneration and expenses as provided by Paragraph 99 of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986, given that the appointing creditor had been “given the run around” by an associated company for many years. There was also a separate application ongoing by the shareholder and director under Paragraphs 74 and 75 under a claim that there had been unfair harm and misfeasance by, amongst other things, the charging of excessive remuneration.

Purle HHJ did not consider that the Joint Administrators’ fears were “sufficient to justify their continuing in office when, as they themselves recognise, there is no practical reason for them to do so, and, most importantly, the administration purpose has been achieved” (paragraph 21). It was also his view that the statutory charge, which could be supported by a restriction registered against the company’s property by means of filing an agreed notice with the Land Registry, was ample to protect them.

The judge refused the relief sought by the Joint Administrators to authorise them to grant a charge to themselves and he ordered the termination of the administration. He did not order that the Joint Administrators be discharged, as the misfeasance proceedings remained unresolved.

Does the EC Regulation on Insolvency Proceedings apply when the winding-up petition is based on the just and equitable ground?

Re ARM Asset Backed Securities SA (9 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3351 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3351.html

A Luxembourg-incorporated company applied for the appointment of provisional liquidators under a winding up petition presented on the grounds that it would be just and equitable to wind it up.

Mr Justice David Richards was satisfied that the evidence pointed to an England COMI: it was apparent that the decisions governing the Company’s administration and management were taken in London and that this was clear to third parties. However, as the petition was based on the just and equitable ground, rather than on the Company’s insolvency, the judge had to consider whether the EC Regulation on “Insolvency Proceedings” kicked in.

Rather than reach a conclusion on this question, the question of the Company’s solvency was addressed. The circumstances of this case were not cut and dried: although it was likely that there would be insufficient funds to service in full the Company’s issued bonds, the terms of the bonds provided that the holders were entitled to recover sums only to the extent that the Company had available to it certain sums. “As a matter of ordinary language, I would take the view that if a company has liabilities of a certain amount on bonds or other obligations which exceed the assets available to it to meet those obligations, the company is insolvent, even though the rights of the creditors to recover payment will be, as a matter of legal right as well as a practical reality, restricted to the available assets, and even though, as the bonds in this case provide, the obligations will be extinguished after the distribution of available funds. It seems to me it can properly be said in relation to this company that it is unable to pay its debts. A useful way of testing this is to consider the amounts for which bond holders would prove in a liquidation of the company. It seems to me clear that they would prove for the face value of their bonds and the interest payable on those bonds” (paragraphs 31 and 32).

Consequently, although David Richards J has left open the question of whether just-and-equitable petitions are caught by the EC Regulation, he was content that the Company could and should be wound up.

(UPDATE 16/03/14: I recommend a briefing by Tina Kyriakides of 11 Stone Buildings: http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-limited-recourse-agreement-march-2014.pdf?500%3bhttp%3a%2f%2fwww.11sb.com%3a80%2fhome%2fhome.asp. This briefing addresses the issue as regards the application of the EC Regulation, pointing out that the decision in Re Rodenstock GmbH held that the winding up of a solvent company is governed by the Judgments Regulation 44/2001 and not by the EC Regulation. More interestingly, this briefing deals with the issue about this case that had niggled me (but which I cowardly avoided): how can liabilities that are expressly restricted to the company’s funds topple the company into insolvency? Personally, I find the conclusions of this briefing far more satisfying.)

Supervisor required to consider effect of set-off despite Adjudicator’s decision

Westshield Limited v Mr & Mrs Whitehouse (18 November 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3576 (TCC))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/TCC/2013/3576.html

The Whitehouses had some work done on their house by Westshield prior to the company entering into a CVA in December 2010. After little exchange, Westshield served a Notice of Adjudication in relation to the work done. The Whitehouses raised the issue of a substantial counterclaim and referred to the terms of the CVA, which included that the Supervisor should address the extent of mutual dealings and consider set-off. The Adjudicator decided that the Whitehouses should pay Westshield c.£133,000, but did not consider the counterclaim. The Whitehouses submitted a claim to the Supervisor of c.£200,000, but the Supervisor was reluctant to deal with it given the Adjudicator’s involvement.

Westshield then issued proceedings seeking to enforce the Adjudicator’s decision, but the Whitehouses maintained that the Supervisor would need to deal with the counterclaim.

The judge believed that Westshield had been entitled to pursue the pre-CVA debt and that, had the cross-claim not intervened, the Adjudicator’s decision would have been enforceable. However, the Whitehouses had become bound by the CVA and therefore the CVA condition requiring an account to be taken of mutual dealings and set off to be applied could be carried out by the Supervisor. “Once that exercise is done, if it shows money due to Westshield, that can be paid subject to the right which the Whitehouses have to refer the matter to Court within a short time. The Court can then consider what effect (if any) the adjudication decision may have on its decision as to what should be done. If the accounting shows money due to the Whitehouses, they will get however many pennies in the pound as are available to creditors from the CVA” (paragraph 27).

Consequently, the judge dismissed the application for summary judgment, staying any further steps until the outcome of the Supervisor’s account was known.


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Two cases of marshalling; support for ETO dismissals; a flawed Chairman’s report fails to help a debtor escape her IVA; and a Company’s challenge of its Administrators’ appointment

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Although I have promised myself an article on the Scottish Bankruptcy Bill and I see that the Deregulation Bill has not gone smoothly through the House of Commons Committee, I should catch up with some recent decisions:

Crystal Palace v Kavanagh: dismissals for an ETO reason are possible after all.
Smith-Evans v Smailes: is an IVA a nullity, if a Chairman’s report on the requisite majority achieved is challenged long after the S262 period?
Highbury v Zirfin: marshalling and the difference between equity of exoneration and the right of subrogation…
Szepietowski v the NCA: … but sometimes marshalling is restricted by the terms of the deal.
Closegate v McLean: the Company/directors were entitled to challenge the Administrators’ appointment.

Back to the future: dismissals can be for an ETO reason even where the objective remains a going concern sale

Crystal Palace FC Limited & Anor v Mrs L Kavanagh & Ors (13 November 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1410)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1410.html

This successful appeal has been the subject of some helpful articles already, such as that written by Dr James Bickford Smith for R3’s Recovery News. My summary of the history up to this Appeal Court decision can be found at: http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-2R.

The Court of Appeal stressed the case-sensitive natures of both this case and Spaceright Europe Limited v Baillavoine, which had formed the basis for the previous EAT’s decision to the contrary. Lord Justice Briggs highlighted the need, per Regulation 7 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, to analyse the “sole or principal reason” for dismissals “so that the Employment Tribunal needs to be astute to detect cases where office holders of insolvent companies have attempted to dress up a dismissal as being for an ETO reason, where in truth it has not been” (paragraph 26).

This Court agreed with the original ET’s analysis in this case that, whilst the Administrator’s ultimate objective remained the sale of the Club (as, Briggs LJ pointed out, would be the case in almost all Para 3(1)(b) Administrations), he made the dismissals because he needed to reduce the wage bill in order to continue running the business, i.e. they were for an ETO reason. This was contrasted with the facts of the Spaceright case, which had decided that the sole or principal reason behind the dismissal of the CEO was to make the business more attractive to a purchaser, illustrating how dismissals could fall outside of an ETO reason.

(UPDATE 15/06/14: On 14 May 2014, the Supreme Court refused permission to appeal this decision.)

If a Chairman’s report states that the IVA was approved and no S262 challenge is raised, does the IVA exist if the requisite majority had not been achieved?

Smith-Evans v Smailes (29 July 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3199 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3199.html

I make no apologies for the length of this summary or the numerous quotes: I believe that this is a somewhat surprising and material outcome so that I felt it was wise to draw heavily from the judgment.

In a nutshell, the debtor appealed against her bankruptcy order, which was made as a consequence of a breached IVA. The debtor claimed that the IVA was a nullity, as the requisite majority had not voted in favour at the S257 meeting.

Two creditors, RBS and HSBC (who had voted via TiX), had voted to restrict the IVA’s duration to 2 years, but, although immediately after the meeting the Chairman had written to TiX “pointing out the divergences from the instructions received” (paragraph 15), in the absence of a reply the Chairman reported that the IVA was approved and its duration was 3 years. HH Judge Purle QC stated that “whilst the chairman of the meeting did not initially, in May 2008, have authority to cast the RBS and HSBC votes in the way subsequently indicated, RBS and HSBC have unequivocally ratified his actions by voting (albeit in the minority) for a determination upon the footing that the IVA was in place” (paragraph 17), referring to the creditors’ voting years’ later on the subject of how the Supervisor should react to the debtor’s breach of the IVA terms.

Purle HHJ commented on the application of the decision in Re Plummer, in which Registrar Baister described his view of the differences between a material irregularity and something that invalidates an IVA approval. Registrar Baister had provided as an example a case where the chairman had wrongly calculated the votes and reported approval when the requisite majority had not been achieved. He had said that this goes further than a material irregularity; in reality, there never was approval. “It cannot be that in those circumstances section 262(8) could be said to overcome the problem by making real that which simply never was. The reason it cannot is because of its wording, which presupposes approval: it is ‘an approval given at a creditors’ meeting’ which ‘is not invalidated’. Non-approval cannot, however, be transformed into approval” (paragraph 28).

However, Purle HHJ held a different view. He reflected on another example in which a requisite majority is obtained on a vote marked objected to: “But let us suppose that no creditor in fact challenges the result. We are left with an IVA which has been approved on a disputed debt, which turns out later never to have been owed. Then, just as much in that case as in the example given by Registrar Baister, it can be said that there never was, as a matter of fact and law, the requisite majority. It would follow that the debtor could, when in breach of the IVA, let us say two years later, turn round and say: ‘There was no IVA and I cannot be made bankrupt for being in breach of its terms’, thus making the time-limited right of challenge or appeal redundant. It seems to me that that is such a startling result that it cannot possibly have been intended by Parliament and the draftsman of the Rules. For my part, I would not and do not construe this part of the 1986 Act or the rules as giving rise to those consequences. I would on the contrary construe section 262(8) and rule 5.22(6) as precluding that result” (paragraph 29).

Consequently, in relation to decisions made at, or in relation to, a S257 meeting, Purle HHJ concluded that “If those decisions are not challenged, in my judgment, they should stand once the relevant report has been made. The time limits, which are tight, set out in both the Act and the Rules, should be applied and not subverted by a collateral attack months or even years down the line” (paragraph 32). In this case, he therefore decided that “as there was no challenge under section 262, the matter cannot be taken now by the debtor. Likewise, there was no challenge (assuming there could have been one) under paragraph 5.22, under which the court’s power is expressly exercisable only if the circumstances giving rise to the appeal are such as to give rise to unfair prejudice or material irregularity. There is no unfair prejudice in holding the debtor to an IVA which he promoted nor was the irregularity material in light of the affected creditors’ knowledge and subsequent ratification” (paragraph 36).

Marshalling and the difference between equity of exoneration and the right of subrogation

Highbury Pension Fund Management Company & Anor v Zirfin Investments Management Limited & Ors (3 October 2013) ([2013] EWCA Civ 1283)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1283.html

I summarised the first instance decision at http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-23. The key conclusion of that decision – that Highbury had a right to marshal securities, even though there was no common debtor (the claims attached to properties of the debtor and the guarantors) – was not the subject of the appeal. Highbury sought to appeal Norris J’s conclusion that its rights over the properties charged to Barclays could not be exercised until Barclays had been paid in full, because Highbury’s rights were restricted so by the wording of the guarantee.

The Appeal judges agreed that the guarantee did not restrict the application of the principle of marshalling. Lord Justice Lewison explained the difference between (i) Zirfin’s right to become subrogated to Barclays’ rights by reason of the guarantee but only after Barclays had been paid in full and (ii) the right of equity of exoneration existing between Zirfin and the Affiliates (the primary debtor): “Where two persons are liable to a creditor for the same debt, but as between themselves one of them is primarily liable and the other is only secondarily liable, the debtor with the secondary liability is entitled to be exonerated from liability by the primary debtor. This equity, unlike the remedy of subrogation, is not dependent on actual payment by the secondary debtor. As soon as the liability is crystallised he is entitled to go to a court” (paragraph 19).

Consequently, it was decided that, on the application of the principle of marshalling, Highbury was entitled to realise the securities notwithstanding that Barclays had not been paid in full, Barclays still retaining priority to repayment over Highbury.

Marshalling again: it can come down to the wording

Szepietowski v The National Crime Agency (formerly SOCA) (23 October 2013) ([2013] UKSC 65)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/65.html

In 2005, the Assets Recovery Agency (which later became SOCA and, later still, the NCA) pursued assets acquired by Mr Szepietowski and this resulted in a settlement involving the granting of a second charge in favour of SOCA over a property, which was charged also to RBS, entitling SOCA to recover up to £1.24m from the proceeds of sale of the property. In 2009, the property was sold but, after RBS’ debt was paid off, SOCA received only £1,324. Consequently, SOCA sought to invoke the right to marshal against another property charged to RBS (“Ashford House”). The lower courts had held that SOCA’s marshalling claim was well-founded and Mrs Szepietowski appealed to the Supreme Court.

Although the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, the justices’ reasons for doing so fell roughly into two camps.

Three justices held that marshalling failed partly because the charge did not create, or acknowledge the existence of, any debt from Mrs Szepietowski to SOCA; it simply provided that she was bound to pay SOCA an amount up to £1.24m from the sale proceeds. Lord Neuberger concluded that “where the second mortgage does not secure a debt owing from the mortgagor to the second mortgagee, the right to marshal should not normally exist once the common property is sold by the first mortgagee and the proceeds of sale distributed, because there would be no surviving debt owing from the mortgagor to the second mortgagee. In such a case, equity should proceed on the basis that the second mortgagee normally takes the risk that the first mortgagee will realise his debt through the sale of the common property rather than the sale of the other property” (paragraph 56). He could not conceive of a case, but did not rule out its existence in exceptional circumstances, in which marshalling effectively could create a secured debt, where in the absence of marshalling no debt existed at all.

However, the two other justices did not consider that the existence or non-existence of a personal liability was the key to deciding whether marshalling was possible. Lord Carnwath agreed that the appeal should be allowed because the terms of the settlement entitled SOCA to recover a sum from property with the specific exclusion of Ashford House and the wording impliedly excluded recourse to any source for payment other than those identified. “If SOCA had wished to include Ashford House as potentially recoverable property, they should have done so specifically, rather than hope to bring it in later by an equitable backdoor” (paragraph 91).

Company/directors were entitled to challenge Administrators’ appointment (but failed in any event)

Closegate Hotel Development (Durham) Limited & Anor v McLean & Ors (25 October 2013) ([2013] EWHC 3237 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3237.html

The companies challenged the validity of the Administrators’ appointments by a QFCH on the basis that the floating charge was not enforceable.

Firstly, the companies had to overcome the hurdle as to whether they had authority to make the application, given that Paragraph 64 of Schedule B1 states that, without the Administrators’ consent, a company may not exercise management power – defined as a power that interferes with the exercise of the Administrators’ powers. Richard Snowden QC did not see this as a difficulty for the companies: “I do not think that paragraph 64 is intended to catch a power on the part of the directors to cause the company to make an application challenging the logically prior question of whether the administrators have any powers to exercise at all” (paragraph 6).

The facts of this case involved lengthy exchanges between the companies and the bank in relation to the companies’ complaints against the bank subject to litigation and proposals to settle the debt due to the bank, which ended with the bank’s appointment of Administrators. It was the companies’ case that “the Companies reasonably understood the communications from the Bank and the course of conduct between them to be a representation that neither side should take any action whilst negotiations between them were continuing” (paragraph 44) and thus the bank had been estopped from taking the action of appointing Administrators. Mr Snowden QC decided on the evidence presented that the companies stood no real prospect of establishing that the bank’s statements or conduct amounted to a clear and unequivocal representation that the bank would not exercise its rights to take enforcement action and therefore the bank was not estopped from appointing Administrators.


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Setting the Scene for Game and other decisions

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I have a nagging suspicion that I’ve been keeping up with reading court judgments in an effort to postpone the job of looking at the draft Rules. I know that I’ll have to look at them sometime, but for now here’s my usual round-up:

• Setting the scene (1): the landlords’ appeal in Game that threatens the Goldacre and Luminar decisions
• Setting the scene (2): the SoS’ appeal of the redundancy consultation requirements in Woolworths and Ethel Austin
• Subtle variation in definitions between Scottish and English statute makes all the difference for a bankrupt living alone
• Limitation period not a barrier to breach of fiduciary duty claim
• Shareholder “acting unreasonably” by not pursuing alternative remedy to deadlock

One to look out for: the landlords’ appeal in the Game Group of Companies

Jervis v Pillar Denton Limited (Game Station) & Ors ([2013] EWHC 2171 (Ch)) (1 July 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2171.html

Most of you will already be keeping an eye open, but I thought I’d cover it here, as BAILII now has published the first instance decision that, in light of the outcomes of Goldacre and Luminar, was pretty-much a foregone conclusion and to which all parties seemed to accept there would be an appeal.

To set the scene: Administrators were appointed on Game Stores Group Limited on 26 March 2012, the day after quarterly rents became due for payment in advance. A licence to occupy a number of properties was granted to Game Retail Limited when the business was sold to it on 1 April 2012. One further property was never occupied by Game Retail Limited, but was effectively abandoned by the Administrators when they removed goods from the property over the first five days of the Administration.

Of course, under Goldacre and Luminar, the rent that fell due prior to Administration is not payable as an expense of the Administration, notwithstanding any use of the property by the Administrators after appointment. In addition, any rents that fall due during the Administration are payable in full as expenses of the Administration even if the Administrators stop using the properties before the end of the relevant quarter. Nicholas Lavender QC made an order to this effect.

The landlords have been granted permission to appeal (and Game Retail Limited to cross-appeal), the key proposed ground being that the Lundy Granite principle and the decision in Re Toshoku Finance UK Plc should result in just and equitable treatment of the rent relating to the period when the property is being used beneficially for the purposes of the Administration as ranking as an expense of the Administration.

The case tracker suggests that the appeal will be heard in February 2014.

(UPDATE: The Game appeal judgment was released on 24 February 2014 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/180.html), the general conclusion being that post-appointment rent (accruing on a daily basis) constitutes an Administration or Liquidation expense, if the property is occupied for the benefit of the Administration or Liquidation. Whilst some of the press coverage suggested that this was a victory for landlords over nasty office-holders, I think that the general mood amongst IPs is that this is a return to a just and sensible approach with which most are comfortable (although a Supreme Court appeal remains a possibility). For a summary of the appeal and its consequences, I would recommend: http://lexisweb.co.uk/blog/randi/landlords-can-rejoice-following-the-game-administration-decision/.)

Another one to look out for: the Secretary of State’s appeal in the Woolworths/Ethel Austin Employment Tribunals

USDAW & Anor v Unite the Union, WW Realisations 1 Limited and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills ([2013] UKEAT 0548/12) (10 September 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0548_12_1009.html

This one is a lot less critical for IPs, but has the potential to reverse a fairly ground-breaking decision nevertheless.

In an earlier post (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-3I), I reported on the original Tribunal of 30 May 2013, which decided that S188 of TULRCA (relating to the consultation requirements where redundancies are expected to affect “20 or more employees at one establishment”) was more restrictive than the EC Directive and that the consultation requirements should apply if 20 or more redundancies in total were planned, irrespective of the employees’ locations. These conclusions meant that some 4,400 former employees of Woolworths and Ethel Austin Limited (in two originally unconnected Tribunal cases) became entitled to 60 or 90 days’ pay… which, of course, fell at BIS’ door.

BAILII has now published the outcome of the Secretary of State’s application for permission to appeal, which was unique inasmuch as the SoS had declined expressly the court’s invitation to attend the previous hearing. However, HH Judge McMullen QC recognised that the previous judgment “made a substantial change in the outlook to this legislation, and it is in the interests of all that this issue be clarified as soon as possible” (paragraph 13). He also had no problem with the technicality that in fact the SoS was not a party at first instance to the Ethel Austin appeal, but only to the Woolworths one. He also imposed a stay on the order that arose out of the earlier appeal pending the SoS’ appeal.

A key issue for the appeal will be the outcome of the CJEU’s considerations of the case of Lyttle v Bluebird UK Bidco 2 Limited (C-182/13 NIIT, http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIIT/2013/555_12IT.html), a February 2013 Northern Ireland Tribunal case, which covers the same ground.

(UPDATE (09/03/14): On 22 January 2014 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/142.html), the Court of Appeal agreed to make a reference so as to give the CJEU an opportunity to join these cases to the Lyttle case with a view to producing a single judgment. Lord Justice Maurice Kay felt that this was appropriate, as there are no employee representations in the Lyttle case and it could be that a judgment on Lyttle alone might not resolve the issues arising in these cases in any event.)

(UPDATE 08/03/15: the European Advocate General’s opinion suggests that ‘at one establishment’ does have a purpose and is compatible with EU law.  Although it is likely, it remains to be seen whether the ECJ will follow the Advocate General’s opinion.  For a summary of the position as it stands at present, take a look at http://goo.gl/HhjHPN or http://goo.gl/MsfGFZ.)

Different Scottish and English treatments of bankrupt’s home do not lead to unfairness

McKinnon v Graham ([2013] EWHC 2870 (Ch)) (20 September 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2870.html

This case nicely demonstrates a subtle difference between the English and Scottish laws relating to a bankrupt’s home: both provide that the property revests in the debtor after three years, but the provisions apply in different circumstances.

S40(4)(a) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 defines “family home” as: “any property in which at the relevant date the debtor had (whether alone or in common with any other person) a right or interest being property which was occupied at that date as a residence by the debtor and his spouse or civil partner or the debtor’s spouse or former spouse or civil partner (in any case with or without a child of the family) or by the debtor with the child of the family”, but the corresponding S283A of the Insolvency Act 1986 applies “where property comprised in the bankrupt’s estate consists of an interest in a dwelling-house which at the date of the bankruptcy was the sole or principal residence of the bankrupt, the bankrupt’s spouse or civil partner or a former spouse or civil partner of the bankrupt”. Consider the position of a property occupied only by the debtor: under English law the property would revest after three years, but under Scottish law it would not.

This case centred around such a property to which the Trustee of Mr Graham’s sequestration had been granted an order for possession. Mr Graham appealed, arguing that the judge had been wrong to apply Scottish law, which must give rise to situations that are manifestly unfair and thus offends public policy. HHJ Behrens endorsed the original decision, satisfied that the judge had correctly concluded that this was not an exceptional case requiring departure from the principle of modified universalism; he had been correct to apply Scottish law. “The fact that Scottish law chose to do this by reference to ‘the family home’ rather than the English law reference to ‘the sole or principal residence of the bankrupt, the bankrupt’s spouse or civil partner or a former spouse or civil partner of the bankrupt’ does not seem to me to come within a measurable distance of offending public policy or a fundamental principle of English insolvency law. As I have indicated the only difference between the 2 sections are the rights afforded to the bankrupt where he alone occupies the family home. Both jurisdictions provide protection where there is occupation by a spouse, civil partner or children. To my mind this difference is not fundamental to English insolvency law, nor does it offend public policy or create manifest unfairness” (paragraph 26).

Limitation period not applicable in case of director dishonesty

Vivendi SA & Anor v Richards & Bloch ([2013] EWHC 3006 (Ch)) (9 October 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3006.html

Claims for breach of fiduciary duty succeeded against a director and shadow director in a fairly complex, but not extraordinary, case. However, personally what I learned from it was that the usual six-year limitation period did not apply as Mr Justice Newey had concluded that the director and shadow director had engaged in dishonest conduct. The payments in question were made between March 2004 and February 2005 and the company went into liquidation in the middle of 2005, but proceedings were not issued until May 2011.

Winding up order not the only solution for “deadlock” company

Maresca v Brookfield Development and Construction Limited & Anor ([2013] EWHC 3151 (Ch)) (16 October 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/3151.html

Mrs Maresca sought the winding up of Brookfield Development and Construction Limited (“BDC”) on the ground that its affairs had been conducted in a way that was unfairly prejudicial to her or alternatively on the just and equitable ground.

The personal relationship between Mrs Maresca and the other shareholder/director had broken down and Mr Justice Norris did consider “that on Mrs Maresca’s contributories’ petition she is entitled to relief by the winding up of the company and (in the absence of any other remedy) it would be just and equitable that the company should be wound up. However I consider that there is another remedy available to her and that she would be acting unreasonably in seeking to have BDC wound up instead of pursuing that other remedy: section 125(2) Insolvency Act 1986” (paragraph 40). With aplomb, Norris J then proceeded to quantify Mrs Maresca’s claim as a creditor based on the facts before him, leading to an order that, if BDC paid her £10,000 by 1 December 2013, then she is bound to transfer her share in BDC to the other shareholder and BDC is not to be wound up.

Norris J ended his judgment with a lesson: “I would readily acknowledge that there is a degree of approximation in this. But I have seen my task as providing a just outcome according to law by the application of resources appropriate to the dispute. Further refinement would come at a cost that would be ruinous to the parties (who have probably devoted to this case more than it is worth). Those who present petitions of this sort for companies like BDC must understand that that is likely to be the approach adopted: and would be wise to adopt the same approach in settlement negotiations” (paragraph 51).


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SIP16: A Clean Slate

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Will this new SIP16 quench the fires burning for pre-packagers? Will it improve the transparency of, and confidence in, pre-packs, which was the stated aim three Secretaries of State ago when this SIP16 revision process began? Who knows, but woe betide any IP who turns out a non-compliant SIP16 disclosure after 1 November!

So what changes do firms need to make over the next four weeks?

Diaries

The new SIP16 timescale is half that of Dear IP 42: the explanation should be provided with the first notification to creditors and in any event within seven calendar days of the transaction (paragraph 11).

The “Information Disclosure Requirements”

Now that there are 25 disclosure points (as compared with the previous 17), I think there is no practical way of ensuring compliance unless templates stick rigidly to the list in the SIP; personally, I think that’s a shame, but there it is. To avoid any possible confusion, perhaps it is best to create a standalone document, which can form an appendix/attachment/enclosure to the letter to creditors and to the administrator’s proposals, as SIP16 now requires that the statement is provided in proposals (although I think most IPs are doing this already).

You may find that some disclosure points that look familiar to those in the current SIP have acquired subtle differences – e.g. not only does “any connection between the purchaser and the directors, shareholders or secured creditors of the company” need to be disclosed under the new SIP, but “or their associates” has been added. Therefore, rather than trying to edit SIP16 lists appearing in existing templates, perhaps it’s as well to tear them up and start afresh. Also, the new SIP16 groups points under sub-headings, which creates a better structure for the disclosure than the previous SIP, so I think it would help coherence (and help anyone checking off compliance) to follow the SIP’s order.

The old SIP’s paragraph 8, which was so loved by the regulators as encapsulating what the SIP16 disclosure was all about, appears almost word-for-word as a key principle in this new SIP. Paragraph 4 states: “Creditors should be provided with a detailed explanation and justification of why a pre-packaged sale was undertaken, to demonstrate that the administrator has acted with due regard for their interests”. Although the Information Disclosure Requirements seem all-encompassing, could someone argue that ticking all those boxes does not meet the paragraph 4 requirement but that, in some cases, a bit more fleshing-out is required? Now that they have been beefed up, I don’t think there’s much risk that the Insolvency Service/RPBs would expect more than those Information Disclosure points, but it does suggest that a degree of sense-checking would be valuable: perhaps someone in the IP’s firm (but not involved in the case) could cold-read draft SIP16 disclosures and see whether they hang together well or whether they leave the reader with questions. I know that it’s a practice that some IP firms already conduct in the interests of transparency.

Other Required Disclosures

I think it would be easy to focus exclusively on the “Information Disclosure Requirements”, but that would be a mistake as there are other items nestled within the SIP that need to be taken care of.

• Paragraph 3 states: “An insolvency practitioner should differentiate clearly the roles that are associated with an administration that involves a pre-packaged sale (that is, the provision of advice to the company before any formal appointment and the functions and responsibilities of the administrator). The roles are to be explained to the directors and the creditors.” Although a similar paragraph appeared in the old SIP with regard to communicating with directors, it might be well to double-check that this, as well as the additional points in paragraph 5 of the SIP, are covered off in the engagement letter to directors. And note that, now, the distinction between the roles of the IP also needs to be explained to the creditors.

• Paragraph 9 introduces a new requirement. It states that the pre-pack explanation should include “a statement explaining the statutory purpose pursued and confirming that the sale price achieved was the best reasonably obtainable in all the circumstances”.

As in the old SIP16, if the disclosure points are not provided, the administrator should explain why. There are a couple of other required explanations for not providing things that are new:

• If the seven day timescale is not met for the SIP16 disclosure, the administrator should “provide a reasonable explanation for the delay” (paragraph 11). If this timescale cannot be met, the SIP requires the administrator to provide a reasonable explanation of the delay. Although the SIP does not state it, presumably you would provide this explanation within your SIP16 disclosure that you would send as swiftly as possible, albeit late.

• If the administrator has been unable to meet the requirement to seek the requisite approval of his proposals as soon as reasonably practicable after appointment, he should explain the reasons for the delay (paragraph 12), again presumably within the proposals whenever they are issued.

Internal Documents

The new SIP pretty-much repeats the old SIP’s requirements for some internal documents:

• Under the heading, Preparatory Work, paragraph 7 states: “An administrator should keep a detailed record of the reasoning behind the decision to undertake a pre-packaged sale” (this was in the old SIP’s introductory paragraphs).

• Under the heading, After Appointment, paragraph 8 states: “When considering the manner of disposal of the business or assets as administrator, an insolvency practitioner should be able to demonstrate that the duties of an administrator under the legislation have been considered”. Okay, it doesn’t mention explicitly internal documents, but it seems to me that contemporaneous file notes – justifying the manner of disposal as in the interests of creditors as a whole or, if the administrator does not believe that either of the first two administration objectives are achievable, that it does not unnecessarily harm the interests of the creditors as a whole (i.e. Paragraphs 3(2) and 3(4) of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986) – should help demonstrate such consideration.

The Future

So is there anything in the old SIP that has been left out of the new SIP? No, nothing of any real consequence, although it did strike me how far we’ve come – that it was felt that the 2008 SIP16 needed to explain, with case precedent references, that administrators have the power to sell assets without the prior approval of the creditors or court. Have we moved on sufficiently from those days, do you think?

When you think of it, it wasn’t too long ago when we were faced with draft regulations requiring three days’ notice to creditors of any pre-pack; they were set to come into force on 1 October 2011. And I don’t think the other ideas, for example that all administrations involving pre-packs should exit via liquidation with a different IP/OR appointed liquidator, have completely disappeared.

However, I think that what this new SIP does is provide us with a clean slate. To some extent, we can file away the Insolvency Service’s statistics of non-compliance with the old SIP16 along with our copies of Dear IP 42 and we can concentrate on getting it right this time. However frustrated and irritated we might feel at having to meet these rigid disclosure requirements, I hope that IPs will strive hard to meet them. It may not silence the critics – let’s face it, it won’t – but it will give them one less stick with which to beat up the profession.


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Administration Order Applications All At Sea

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I really do want to write about all the changes the Scottish Government is proposing to make to personal insolvency north of the border, but every time I think I’ve got a handle on it all, the AiB produces something more! So for now I’ll have to settle for some case summaries:

Data Power Systems v Safehosts London: another administration application ends in a winding up order
Information Governance v Popham: yet another failed administration application
UK Coal Operations: “reasonable excuse” for avoiding administration proposals and meeting
Times Newspapers v McNamara: access to bankruptcy file granted in the public interest

Another failed administration application results in a winding up order

Data Power Systems Limited & Ors v Safehosts (London) Limited (17 May 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2479 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2479.html

The library of precedents for courts rejecting applications for administration orders is building: we’ve have Integeral Limited (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-3C) and UK Steelfixers Limited (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-t) and here is a third. What makes this particularly interesting is that no one was asking for a winding up order, but that’s what the judge decided to do.

So where did it all go wrong this time..?

• HHJ Simon Barker QC stated that there was no explained basis for one of the applicant’s expressed belief that the company could be rescued as a going concern. He stated that the forecasts, which were prepared (or perhaps only submitted) by “an experienced insolvency practitioner”, were “merely numbers on a piece of paper and of no greater evidential value than that” (paragraph 17).
• The judge stated that the strategy proposed by the second set of proposed administrators (nominated by the major creditor, as an interested party to the application) was “with all due respect, no more than an outline of the sort of tasks that administrators would be focusing upon in any administration, it does not appear to be tailored in any way to the particular position of the company” (paragraph 18).
• The judge also saw no evidence “that the creditors are at all likely to benefit either from a rescue or from any dividend in the event that the company is placed in administration” (paragraph 20), but the evidence did include a statement that the asset realisations likely would be swallowed up by the costs of the administration.
• As there were no secured creditors and no evidenced preferential creditors (and even if there were any, they would be highly unlikely to receive a distribution), there was not even a prospect that the third administration objective might be achieved.
• Consequently, although the judge accepted that the threshold set by Paragraph 11(b) of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986 “is not a high one; it is simply not crossed. The circumstances of this case serve as a reminder that insolvency alone is not sufficient to engage the jurisdiction for an administration order to be made, and further that the requirement of paragraph 11(b) of Schedule B1 is not a mere formality capable of being satisfied by assertion unsupported by cogent credible evidence sufficient to enable the Court to be satisfied that, if an administration order is made, the purpose of administration is reasonably likely to be achieved” (paragraph 23).

What was the outcome in this case? The judge had contemplated adjourning the application to enable further evidence to support the suggestion that the company could be rescued to be presented, but he noted that “the essence of an administration is speed and that is made clear at paragraph 4 of Schedule B1 – ‘The administrator of a company must perform his functions as quickly and efficiently as is reasonably practicable’. Delay should be completely contrary to the purpose of an administration” (paragraph 25). Although no one had been bidding for a winding-up order, that is what the judge decided to do: Paragraph 13(1)(e) empowered him to treat the application as a winding-up petition. He also contemplated ordering that the OR be appointed provisional liquidator, but he ended up appointing the major creditor’s nominated IPs.

The postscript to this case: the provisional liquidators generated asset realisations far in excess of that previously estimated, presumably with the prospect of a dividend to creditors, after all. Although that’s a positive outcome of course, it is a shame that the funds could not be distributed to creditors without incurring Insolvency Service fees as an expense of the winding-up.

Yet another failed administration application

Information Governance Limited v Popham (7 June 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2611 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2611.html

This case isn’t really in the same league as the other three rejected administration applications I’ve mentioned, but it highlights an interesting hiccup for the applicant.

The sole director issued an application for an administration order, but before it was heard, two shareholders made themselves directors, validly in the court’s opinion. These new directors opposed the application, taking the view that there was a possibility that the company could trade out of its difficulties. Although Mr Justice David Richards was satisfied that the court had jurisdiction to make the administration order on the basis that, on the face of it, the company could not pay its debts and that an administration purpose was achievable, he did “not think it right in all the circumstances to take that step” (paragraph 17) that day and dismissed the application.

Swift move to CVL equals “reasonable excuse” for avoiding administrators’ proposals and creditors’ meeting

Re. UK Coal Operations Limited & Ors (9 July 2013) ([2013] EWHC 2581 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/2581.html

Is there any point in issuing proposals to creditors on a case whose rationale has already been explained to the court (for it to make an administration order in the first place) and when the company is to be moved swiftly to CVL? HH Judge Purle thinks not.

I should qualify that: in this case, the restructuring of four companies was to take place via administrations followed, within a few days, by Para 83 moves to CVL so that some onerous liabilities could be disclaimed. In Purle J’s view, these circumstances gave rise to a reasonable excuse for not complying with the statutory requirements to issue proposals and convene creditors’ meetings, “to avoid the pointless expense” (paragraph 5).

Whilst I’m sure that, in the context of these cases, unsecured creditors are not feeling hard done by – maybe they’re content not to have any information regarding the events leading to insolvency or the financial condition of the companies, which would have been provided in administrators’ proposals or in a S98 report in a standard CVL – but the principle just doesn’t sit well with me. Something else I find surprising is that the court seemingly granted the administration orders purely on the basis that the speed with which the process could be carried out, when compared with that to hold a S98 meeting, meant that the administrations were likely to achieve the objective of a better result for creditors as a whole than on winding up. It also seems to me that Purle J was too focussed on the long-stop timescale of proposals being 8 weeks “by which time the company will be in liquidation” (paragraph 4), whereas, as we all know, Para 49(5) requires the proposals to be issued “as soon as reasonably practicable after the company enters administration”. Having said that, I note from Companies House that the CVL was registered three days after the administration, which, given that the Form 2.34B has to reach Companies House first, does seem extremely fast work, so perhaps I should be applauding this case as demonstrating a novel and successful use of the administration process.

Journalist allowed access to bankruptcy file to explore legitimate public interest in bankruptcy tourism

Times Newspapers Limited v McNamara (13 August 2013) ([2103] EWHC B12 (Comm))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2013/B12.html

The Times sought access to the court file on the bankruptcy of Mr McNamara, an Irish property developer, on the basis that the circumstances surrounding his and his companies’ amassing of debts of some €1.5 billion and his justification for his COMI being in England were matters of public interest.

Mr Registrar Baister noted that there have been no cases dealing with the permission of someone who was not party to the insolvency proceedings to have access to the court file, as provided in Rule 7.31A(6), introduced to the Insolvency Rules 1986 in 2010. However, he drew up some principles based on the leading authority on access to court documents (R. (on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, [2012] EWCA Civ 420), which he felt applied to proceedings of all kinds, including insolvency proceedings and which he hoped would assist courts consider requests for permission under R7.31A(6) in future:

“(a) that the administration of justice should be open, which includes openness to journalistic scrutiny;
(b) that such openness extends not only to documents read in court but also to documents put before the judge and thus forming part of the decision-making process in proceedings;
(c) that openness should be the default position of a court confronted with an application such as this;
(d) however, there may be countervailing reasons which may constitute grounds for refusing access;
(e) the court will thus in each case need to carry out a fact-specific exercise to balance the competing considerations” (paragraph 23).

In the circumstances of this case, Registrar Baister stated: “It is entirely appropriate for the press to seek to delve into the mind of the registrar (to the extent that it can) and to comment on what the court has done or appears to have done. The bankruptcy tourism question remains very much alive and is a legitimate matter of public interest in this country, in Ireland, in Germany and in Europe generally” (paragraph 36). Consequently, he granted the Times access to the court file of McNamara’s bankruptcy.


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Red Tape? Hang out the bunting!

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Any measures to reduce insolvency regulation are most welcome and, apart from the odd item that threatens to increase the burden on IPs, the proposals of the Insolvency Service’s Red Tape Challenge consultation promise to bring in a brave new world where website communication is the norm and meetings are a thing of the past. Whether these proposals will be seen as working against the tide of opinion seeking greater creditor engagement remains to be seen, but, for me, some of these changes cannot come soon enough.

Ever conscious that my articles are getting longer and longer, I have described my Top Seven proposals from the consultation document.

The consultation document (“CD”) can be found at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/insolvency/Consultations/RedTapeChallenge?cat=open. The deadline for responses is 10 October 2013.

1. Abolition of Reg 13 Case Records, but there’s a sting in the tail

The first proposal in the document is a belter: let’s abolish the Reg 13 Case Record – yes, please! I remember spending what seemed so much wasted time ensuring that the Reg 13 (or Reg 17 in my day) schedules were complete and accurate – far more overall, I suspect, than the 1 hour per case estimated in the Impact Assessment (which strangely is assumed to apply to only 80% of all cases).

However, it seems the Service is twitchy about leaving IPs to their own devices and is recommending that “legislation should require IPs to maintain whatever records necessary to justify the actions and decisions they have taken on a case. It is not expected that such a provision would impose a new requirement, but rather codify what is already expected of regulated professionals” (paragraph 32). Scary! So instead of a simple, albeit useless, two-pager listing key filing dates etc. of the case, legislation will require IPs to retain certain records. This could go one of two ways: either the provision will be so bland (e.g. as the CD describes it: records to justify actions and decisions) as to be pointless, or it will be in the style of the 2010 Rules on Progress Reports, which will introduce a whole new industry of compliance workers whose job will be to cross-check case files against a statutory list.

Why does the Service see a need to “codify” this matter? If an IP is not already retaining a sensible breadth of records (and such an IP will be rare indeed), if only to protect themselves from the risk of challenge, do they think that a statutory provision is going to force them to do it? Do they think that there needs to be a statutory requirement to assist regulators in addressing any serious failures? Such a measure has the potential to increase the regulatory burden on IPs without, as far as I can see, bringing any advantage whatsoever.

2. Abolishing almost all meetings

Although I welcome these proposals, I do think that the Service has over-egged the savings. For example, the Impact Assessment suggests that £7m would be saved by abolishing final meetings. Although the Service recognises that there will be negligible saving in relation to drafting the final documentation – even if there is no final meeting, a final report etc. will still need to be produced – they have estimated that each case will save on room hire of £64, 1 hour of an administrator’s time, and half an hour of a manager’s time. Personally, I would be very surprised if any IP makes provision for anyone attending a final meeting – does the Service picture IP staff sitting in an empty hired room twiddling their thumbs just in case someone turns up? Ok, so IP staff will save time on drafting minutes of the meeting, but that’s little more than churning off a standard template; it’s hardly 1.5 hours worth.

So if most meetings are abolished, is everything going to be handled in a process similar to the Administration meeting-by-correspondence process? Not quite, although it seems that almost all matters that will require a positive response from creditors – approval of VAs and of the basis of remuneration in any insolvency process – may be handled either as a physical meeting or by correspondence votes. The CD indicates that in other circumstances, “deemed consent” may occur: “the office-holder will issue documents to the creditors informing them of an event (as happens now) and that the contents of these documents are approved (if approval is required for that document/event) unless 10% or more by value or by number of creditors object in writing” (paragraph 64). In what kind of circumstances might this apply? I’m struggling to come up with many instances. I am aware that several IPs seek approval of R&Ps, although personally I do not believe that they need to. The CD also proposes to revise the Act’s Schedules so that Liquidators can exercise more powers without consent, but I guess that, if that does not go ahead, they might be other instances. I guess there might also be case-specific events, e.g. to pursue an uncertain asset, which might be referred to creditors. But there’s nothing wholesale that in future might be handled by “deemed consent”, is there? Unless…

Although the CD excludes office-holder’s fees from “deemed consent”, it makes no mention of SoA/S98 fees. If under the present statute, these need creditors’ approval, might they be deemed approved in future. Personally, I think this is another area, if the fees are due to the IP/firm/connected party, that also needs positive creditor approval.

Professor Kempson reported that IPs estimated that 4% of creditors attended meetings. It is not clear in the report what kind of meetings these are, but I bet they are S98s in the main. Personally, I have always viewed S98s as good opportunities for IPs to communicate something to trade creditors about the insolvency process and to convey face-to-face something of the professionalism, competence, and integrity of IPs. If it is true that no one goes to these any more, then fair enough, but even if it is only the rare S98 that attracts an audience, I feel it could just widen the gap further between IPs and creditors if no S98 meeting were ever held again. Having said that, the Service estimates that there will be only 30% fewer meetings, but if statute no longer requires physical S98s, would they be held; could the cost be justified?

3. Communication by website

The Impact Assessment does not quantify the estimated savings from these proposals, suggesting that they will be smaller than those related to the proposals to allow creditors to opt out of receiving correspondence, but, unless I have misunderstood their proposal, personally I could see this provision being used extensively.

Firstly, a bit more about creditors opting out: the Service estimates that, if they could under statute, 20% of creditors would notify office-holders that they did not wish to receive any further information on a case. I’m sorry, but I really cannot see it: this would require creditors to take action to disengage from the insolvency process – if they’re not already engaged, why would they send back such a notification? And would some then worry that they might miss out on important news, e.g. that miraculously there’s a prospect of a dividend, even though statute might be designed to ensure that Notices of Intended Dividend (“NoID”) etc. be issued notwithstanding any creditor opt-out?

As I say, much more promising I think is the Service’s suggestion that office-holders could write once to creditors to tell them that all future documents are going to be accessible on a website, which is something that office-holders can do presently but only with a court order. Wouldn’t that be great? No more need to send one-pagers to creditors informing them that a progress report has been placed on the website – you’d just put in on the website, job done. I wonder how many hits the web page would get… On second thoughts, I don’t think I want to know; I think it would only make me cry at the realisation of the huge amount of money, time and trees that had been wasted over the decades in sending reports that almost no one read.

There are a couple of catches: the Service proposes that the office-holder could do this only when he/she “considers that uploading statutory documents to a website, instead of sending hard copies, will not unfairly disadvantage creditors” (paragraph 95). I would have thought that creditors might only be unfairly disadvantaged if they are unable to access the website, no? So are we talking here about a particular profile of creditor? Or is the Service thinking, not about the creditors, but about the importance of the documentation? I could see that it might be unfair to place a NoID on a website with no announcement, leaving it to creditors’ pot luck as to whether they spotted the notice in time to lodge a claim – and I’m guessing that NoIDs would be excluded from this provision. But in what other circumstances could creditors be unfairly disadvantaged?

In another section of the CD, which covers a proposal to reduce the number of statutory circulars (which has not made it to my Top Seven), the Service states that: “Important information is being passed – to attend a meeting, to know of its outcome – which we would not want dissipated” (paragraph 102). So does the Service believe that a notice of meeting needs to be circulated, rather than pop onto a website, for fear that creditors might not see it until the meeting had been held? Ok, but then what about progress reports, the issuing of which sets the clock ticking for challenges to fees: are these similarly too important to pop onto a website unannounced? Could creditors be considered to be unfairly disadvantaged by this action? But where would that leave us: what documents would be appropriate to post to a website unannounced?

4. Extend extensions by consent

The Service proposes to extend the period by which Administrations may be extended by consent of creditors to 12 months. They also invite views on whether this should be extended further.

My personal view is that it would seem practical, whilst not making it too easy for Administrations to stagnate, to allow creditors to extend Administrations indefinitely but only by, say, 6 months at a time.

I can think of few circumstances where an Administration should move to a Liquidation, particularly if another of the Service’s proposals – that the power to take fraudulent or wrongful trading actions be extended to Administrators – is implemented. The CD also suggests empowering an Administrator to pay a dividend from the prescribed part, although I would like to see the power extend to a dividend of any description (what’s so special about the prescribed part?). These changes would seem to remove the need to move a company from Administration to CVL (although I wonder if these changes will persuade HMRC to drop its practice of modifying proposals to require that the company be placed into liquidation of some description – why do they do that?!), but then some Administrations might need to be extended for significant periods – adjudicating on claims can be a lengthy business.

I think the Enterprise Act envisaged Administrations as a holding cell, allowing the office-holder to do what he/she could to get the best out of the situation, but once the end-result was established, the idea was that the company would move to liquidation, CVA, or even escape back to solvency. But that all seems a bit over-complicated and costly when, in many respects (e.g. specific bond, R&P and currently D-report/return), the successive CVL is a completely separate insolvency case. Why does the company need to move to CVL to pay a dividend?

5. Scrap small dividends

The Service proposes that, where the dividend payment to a creditor will be less than, say £5 or £10, the dividend is not paid to the creditor. The Service suggests that these unpaid dividends might be passed to its disqualification department or to HM Treasury.

The Service has spotted the key difficulty: should the threshold apply to each interim/final dividend payment or to the total dividend? Although it would not be impossible, it could be tricky applying the threshold to the total dividend – the office holder would need to keep a tally of small unpaid dividends at each interim payment and monitor when the sum total crossed the threshold. To be fair, I guess there are few insolvencies that involve interim dividends – I am assuming that this provision would not apply to VAs (unless the debtor specifically provided for it in the Proposal), but I believe that any increased burden on declaring interim dividends should be avoided.

6. “Minor” changes

The CD provides some annexes of so-called “minor” proposals for change:

• Extend the deadline for proxies up to, and including at, the meeting. Granted very few meetings are physical meetings, but I remember the days of holding CVA meetings and having someone stand by the office fax machine just in case any last-minute proxies came in – it’s not exactly cost-free.

• Apply the VA requisite majorities rule on connected party voting to liquidations and bankruptcies. Personally, I think this is quite a naughty proposal to slip in to this consultation, particularly at the tail-end of a “minor” proposals annex – it hardly seems in keeping with the Red Tape Challenge objective of abolishing unnecessary regulation! Why isn’t it already in liquidations and bankruptcies? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if it is something to do with the fact that the resolutions taken at VA meetings decide the fate of the insolvent entity, whether to approve the VA or not. The provision is also in Administrations, which is a bit more difficult to rationalise (as are a lot of Administration rules!): perhaps it is because Administrators’ Proposals might also decide the fate of the company, whether the Administrator pursues its rescue by means of a CVA or otherwise (see, for example, Re Station Properties Limited, http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-3I). These decisions are fundamentally different from those taken at liquidation and bankruptcy meetings, where any connected party bias is far less relevant.

• “Clarify that, where ‘creditors’ is mentioned in insolvency regulation, only those creditors whose debts remain outstanding are being referred to. Currently, if a creditor has received payment in full, they would still be classed as a creditor in the insolvency (as they would have been a creditor at the commencement of the procedure, which fixes the use of that term legally). As the legislation refers to actions that can be carried out by or with the consent of creditors, engaging with those ‘creditors’ who have already received full payment (and may not consider themselves creditors any longer) can be difficult” (annex 6(a)). Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up! It makes a joke of the current position, though. For example, the ICAEW blogged that creditors need to receive copies of MVL progress reports (http://www.ion.icaew.com/insolvencyblog/26779). Although I dispute that this is the only interpretation of the Act/Rules, the consequence of the Service’s stance described above is that, despite what the Service apparently has told the ICAEW, even if creditors have been paid, they still receive copies of MVL progress reports – what nonsense! To my mind, however, the key issue arising from this conclusion is the application of R2.106(5A) – not only would paid secured creditors’ approval to the basis of fees need to be sought, but also paid preferential creditors. I wonder what the court would say if a paid creditor applied on the ground that the Administrator had failed to include them in an invitation to approve fees? I suspect: ”Go away and stop wasting the court’s time!” And don’t forget that the Administrator needs to seek all secured creditors’ approvals of the time of his/her discharge – personally, this seems unnecessarily burdensome to me anyway, but do we really need to seek the approval of creditors who are no longer owed anything? Also, the Act/Rules do not seem to allow the Administrator to get his/her discharge by means of anything other than a positive consent from all secured creditors. It’s a shame that this CD does not propose that silent secured creditors could be ignored, when seeking approval for discharge or for fees.

• “Consider the efficiency of the process by which administration can exit into dissolution or CVL and clarify them, if necessary” (annex 6(f)) – yes, please! Despite being tweaked and being the subject of much debate and consultation, it seems that the move to CVL process defies simplification. Now we have the unsatisfactory position that the Administrator needs to sign off and submit to Registrar of Companies (“RoC”) a final report covering the period up to the date that the company moves to CVL, but, because Administrators only learn of this event when they see it appear on the register at Companies House, they have already vacated office by the time they can sign and submit the report. Whilst Administrators can get the report pretty-much ready for signing before they vacate office – so at least they can be paid for the work! – there must be a way of avoiding this fudge, mustn’t there? I ask myself, why should the RoC be in control of the move date? Why couldn’t the Administrator sign a form with the effect that the company moves to CVL and statute simply provide that the form must be filed within a short time thereafter? After all, the dates of commencement of all other insolvency processes are fixed outside of RoC’s hands and the appropriate notices/resolutions are filed after the event.

7. Changes to D-report/return forms

I know that R3 has expended a lot of effort into seeking changes to the D-report/return forms and in putting them online, so I hope that I’m not dissing the Service’s proposals unduly out of ignorance. However, the CD left me puzzled.

Instead of asking IPs to express an opinion on whether the director “is a person whose conduct makes it appear to you that he is unfit” – because the Service believes that this can delay submission of the form, as the IP takes time to gather evidence – it proposes to ask IPs to provide “details of director behaviour which may indicate misconduct” (paragraph 209). From what I can gather, it seems there will be a tick-box list of behaviours that may indicate misconduct. But IPs will still be working on the basis of evidence in ticking the boxes, won’t they? So all that will be removed is the need for the IP to decide whether a D-return or report is appropriate (the Service’s plan is to have only one form). In fact, it could be more burdensome to IPs, as currently they use their own judgment in deciding that an action or behaviour does not, or is unlikely to, cross the threshold of misconduct, which would lead them to submit a clean return, end of story. However, under the proposed system, it seems to me that the IP would tick the box regarding the particular behaviour and the Service would then have to decide whether it warranted further investigation. Would that help anyone?

I appreciate IPs’ reluctance in expressing an opinion on misconduct, but I suggest that the main rationale for dropping this requirement is that, as currently, the Service will make its own mind up anyway, so what does it matter what the IP thinks? However, what will be lost under the new system will be the IP acting as a first-level filter, which I guess achieves the Red Tape Challenge objective, but it seems unhelpful in the greater scheme of things.

And is this tick-box approach going to be an improvement? Although the Service has promised a free text box (woo hoo!), it all sounds a bit restrictive to me.

One promising proposed change is that the Service will pre-populate returns with information that is already available (presumably from RoC). Not only will this make IPs’ lives a little easier, but also the receipt of a pre-populated return may act as a useful prompt to complete the task.

BIS is pursuing its “Digital by Default vision” and so views are sought on whether electronic submission of D-returns could be mandatory. Although personally I think it would not be a huge leap for all IPs to do this – provided the return was a moveable document that could be worked on and passed around a number of people in the IP’s office before finalisation and submission – I dislike the suggestion that there would be no other way of complying with the legislation and I did have to laugh at the image of an IP typing up his D-return in a public library (paragraph 205)!

The Service is also proposing to change the deadline to 3 months, on the assumption that this would be doable if IPs were not required to express an opinion and on the basis that “all of the information required for completion of the return will be available to the office-holder within that reduced period in the vast majority of cases” (paragraph 212). I’m not so sure, particularly if the IP encounters resistance in retrieving books and records and if directors are slow in submitting completed questionnaires – and these likely will include the cases where some misconduct has gone on. The CD does not mention what an IP’s duty would be in relation to any discoveries after the 3 months, but presumably a professional IP will go to the expense of informing the Service of material findings. I realise that resources are stretched extraordinarily within the Investigations department, but I’m not convinced that this is the best way to tackle the issue.

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Well, I had intended to avoid prattling on for too long, but I think I failed! Hopefully, this is a reflection of the interest I have in the Service’s proposals: despite my criticisms, Insolvency Service, I am grateful for your efforts in seeking to improve things – thank you.


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Case summaries: Two Admin appointments; two OR cases; valuing a bank’s claim; LB Pension Scheme; and disqual

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The Courts have been busy. Here’s a summary of half the recent judgments in my inbox:

Re Care People Limited: Administrator’s appointment valid despite defective QFCH demand
Re Integeral Limited: Proposed Administrators’ “supine approach” falls very far short of Court’s expectations
Re Clive McNally: how to value unsecured element of bank’s claim for IVA voting purposes
Howard v OR: OR is not Equality Act duty when deciding to revoke IVA
LB Re Financing No. 1 Limited v Trustees of Lehman Brothers Pension Scheme: Trustees entitled to add target companies to FSD
• From Scotland: SoS for BIS v Reza: director in name only disqualified
• From Northern Ireland: OR v Gallagher: OR fails to have post-petition matrimonial order set aside as disposition

Re Care People Limited (In Administration) ([2013] EWHC 1734 (Ch)) (18 March 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/1734.html

In Brief: Appointment of administrators six minutes after QFCH demand, which gave conflicting deadlines for repayment, was premature at worst. Court decided defect did not render appointment a nullity and waived, declaring appointment valid.

Ultimate Invoice Finance Limited, a QFCH, issued a written demand dated 25 February 2013 to the company and an Administrator was appointed by filing a notice of appointment at court at 12 noon on 26 February. The difficulty was that the demand gave two different timescales for repayment: in one place, two days, and, elsewhere in the same demand, by return. Under the terms of the charge, the written demand was to be considered as served 48 hours from the time of posting. The QFCH repeated the demand by emailing it at 11.54am on 26 February, i.e. just six minutes before the appointment. Consequently, the question for Judge Purle was whether the Administrator had been validly appointed.

Purle J concluded that “at least enough time, which is more than six minutes, had to elapse for the unchallenged part of the demand to be met, assuming the company could meet it. The probability, therefore, is that the appointment was not properly made at the time, but was irregular” (paragraph 13). However, the company was in no position to make the repayment in two days or at all, so “what occurred at worst therefore was a premature appointment” (paragraph 14). He felt that the defect was simply a procedural matter and did not consider it “of such fundamental importance as to render the appointment a nullity” (paragraph 15). He also believed that the prejudice to the company was limited and that there was no substantial injustice resulting from the premature appointment and thus he declared the appointment valid notwithstanding the defect.

Re Integeral Limited ([2013] EWHC 164 (Ch)) (5 February 2013)

http://www.11sb.com/pdf/re-integeral-ltd.pdf

In Brief: Proposed Administrators criticised for taking “supine approach” to flawed administration application. Court took into account creditors’ lack of confidence in any administrator proposed by director and granted winding up order.

This judgment has not yet appeared on BAILII, but the article in R3’s Summer 2013 Recovery magazine by Prav Reddy and Christopher Boardman was quite striking, so I thought I’d track it down.

Readers of Recovery magazine may recall the article, which emphasised the obligations of nominee administrators indicated by this case in which an application for an administration order was dismissed in favour of a winding-up order. The judge, Richard Snowden QC, stated that “it is of fundamental importance that any insolvency practitioner who is nominated as a potential administrator – an officer of the court – and who ventures his opinion to the court as to the prospects of an administration order, should do so carefully, with an independent mind, and on the basis of a critical assessment of the position of the company and the proposals going forward” (paragraph 69). In this case, the court granted leave for the petitioner to apply for a costs order against the nominee administrators personally on the basis that their evidence “fell very far short of these basic requirements” (paragraph 70).

Having read the judgment, I thought I’d add to the R3 article. The facts of this case were quite unusual, leading the judge to state that, in his judgment, “the administration application has been a tactical ploy by Mr Joshi to avoid or at the very least postpone the liquidation of the Company and the independent investigation of his conduct of its affairs” (paragraph 78). It sticks in the throat a bit to hear a judge refer to an “independent liquidator” and to give weight to the views of creditors who “would have no confidence in any administrator suggested by Mr Joshi”. It makes for uncomfortable reading when a judge appears to hint at a risk, or at least acknowledges the perception of some creditors, that such an IP will not do his/her job when appointed officer of the court. In Snowden’s judgment “the supine approach of both practitioners and their failure even to acknowledge the fundamental problems… is so serious as to call into question their competence and independence from Mr Joshi” (paragraph 72). It makes me question: how is a nominated administrator to function? He is not an officer of the court until appointed administrator and until then he receives his instructions from the company in assisting in putting the company into administration – I am not suggesting that this supports a “supine approach”, but it does make me wonder how an IP can manage such risks of conflict of interest, which exist in every case, at least theoretically, where he is introduced to an appointment – whether Administration, Liquidation, or CVA – by the company.

Re Clive Vincent McNally ([2013] EWHC 1685 (Ch)) (17 June 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/1685.html

In brief: Bank was correct to deduct future costs of LPA receivers in valuing unsecured element of claim for purposes of voting on IVA.

McNally appealed his bankruptcy, which had followed a rejected IVA Proposal, and the rejection of his application to set aside, amongst other things, the chairman’s decision on the amount of a bank’s debt for voting purposes.

The key differences in the chairman’s/bank’s view of the value of the claim for and the view of Mr McNally were (i) the value of the property – the bank relying on a valuation of £650,000 to £750,000 and Mr McNally relying on a letter proposing to market the property at £850,000 – and (ii) the costs of realisation – the bank estimating them at £100,000 and Mr McNally at £27,000.

The judge had little difficulty in rejecting McNally’s view of the property value in favour of the bank’s on the basis of the valuation evidence. Deciding on the costs of realisation was a little less straightforward, as they comprised costs incurred prior to the IVA meeting and future costs anticipated to be incurred by LPA receivers. Judge Purle QC stated: “I would accept that the court should not proceed on the basis that exceptional or unusual costs will be incurred, but where, as here, receivers are in place, the ongoing costs associated with their appointment are inevitable and cannot be ignored… Costs which must inevitably be incurred before or in the realisation of the security must, it seems to me, be taken into account in ascertaining the unsecured balance, as the value of the security (from which the costs will be paid) is necessarily reduced by the amount of those future costs” (paragraph 33).

On this basis, the value of the bank’s unsecured claim was considered sufficient to defeat the proposed IVA and the appeal was dismissed.

R (on the application of Amanda Howard) v The Official Receiver ([2013] EWHC 1839 (Admin)) (28 June 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/1839.html

In Brief: OR exercised a judicial function when deciding to revoke a DRO, so not subject to public sector equality duty.

Ms Howard sought a judicial review of the OR’s decision to revoke her Debt Relief Order on the ground that the OR had failed to comply with the public sector equality duty set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

The DRO was revoked on the basis that the debtor’s disposable income during the moratorium period materially exceeded the £50 per month threshold allowed, albeit that this was a consequence of the debtor receiving three months’ underpayment of working tax credits from HMRC, but the debtor claimed that the OR had failed to take into account that she had a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 – the OR had accepted that the debtor was disabled within the meaning of the Act – and that the decision to revoke amounted to direct discrimination.

The key issue was whether the OR was exercising a judicial function (within the meaning contemplated by paragraph 3 of Schedule 18 to the Act) in deciding to revoke the DRO – if so, she would not have the section 149 public sector equality duty.

Mr Justice Swaden’s judgment is one of the longest I have read, but the upshot was that the OR was exercising a judicial function – in my view, one persuasive argument was that the power to revoke a DRO is conferred on both the OR and the court and, as it was common ground that the court would be exercising a judicial function in revoking a DRO, it is difficult to see how the OR would not be also; if instead the OR were subject to the public sector equality duty, it could mean that the OR and the court would come to different conclusions on identical facts.

Consequently, the OR was not subject to the public sector equality duty in deciding to revoke the DRO and the application for judicial review was dismissed.

LB Re Financing No 1 Limited & Ors v The Trustees of the Lehman Brothers Pension Scheme & Ors ([2013] EWCA Civ 751) (214 June 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/751.html

In Brief: Trustees entitled to seek addition of further target companies to FSD, despite two-year timescale from look-back date having elapsed.

Although this is a Lehman Brothers pension case, and thus I have struggled to keep up with the issues and arguments, it seems to me to be a significant outcome.

On 13 September 2010, the Determinations Panel of the Pensions Regulator issued a Financial Support Direction to six Lehman group companies. The Trustees referred the determination to the Upper Tribunal in order to increase the number of targets of the FSD by adding a further 38 Lehman group companies. The additional targets appealed on the basis that the Trustees were not “directly affected” by the determination and thus were not entitled to exercise the right to request their addition and that the 2-year period had elapsed (based on the Pensions Regulator’s Warning Notice, which identified 14 September 2008 as the look back date for any FSD determination against a target identified in the warning notice) and thus the Regulator could not issue an FSD to the other companies based on the same issue date. Both grounds of the appeal were dismissed.

Lady Justice Arden did not believe that the court should adopt a narrow interpretation of “directly affected” and thus conclude in this case that, because the Trustees’ rights were affected two or three steps after the determination, this rules them out as being “directly affected”. “They are, therefore, interested in a very real sense in the initial stage involving the determination to issue an FSD” (paragraph 22).

On the 2-year time limit issue, it was acknowledged that “there will never be another case in which the time limit imposed by section 43(9) [of the Pensions Act 2004] in its original form will fall to be applied” (paragraph 38), as it has since been amended by the Pensions Act 2011. However, Arden LJ described the “plainly undesirable consequences” that would result from the imposition of a 2-year timescale in the way argued, which “would turn the reference and appeal proceedings into a filibusterer’s paradise” (paragraph 48) and “would be to treat the time limit as an inappropriate master rather than as a good servant” (paragraph 59). She believed that the Upper Tribunal’s directions given under section 103(5) and (6) of the Pensions Act 2004 were not subject to the time limit provided in section 43(9).

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills v Ferdousi Reza ([2013] ScotCS CSOH 86) (31 May 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2013/2013CSOH86.html

In Brief: Director’s abdication of all responsibility to husband resulted in two-year disqualification order. Also lesson for directors: if contemplating an undertaking, perhaps offer it before the hearing!

A disqualification order was made against Mrs Reza for two years.

Mr and Mrs Reza had both been directors. Mr Reza had already given an undertaking not to be a director for three years. The company had gone into administration after continuing to trade without paying tax, but Mrs Reza’s defence was that she had no knowledge of that, as she had no active involvement with the company but left all its affairs to her husband.

The judge commented that “over the whole of her 18 years in office as a director, the respondent failed to carry out even the most basic of her duties” (paragraph 15) and acknowledged that she had been made a director only because of the perceived tax advantages and in case her husband had been unavailable to sign documents. However, “if someone accepts a directorship and then abdicates all responsibility for the affairs of the company, on any common sense view they have demonstrated unfitness for the office to a high degree… and the case law is clear that incompetence can include inactivity” (paragraphs 17 and 19). The short disqualification period of two years was considered appropriate, given that Mrs Reza did not know of the company’s tax defaults.

Despite Mrs Reza informing the court at the end of the hearing that she would be prepared to give an undertaking, the petitioner pursued a disqualification order “not least as an example and a deterrent to others” (paragraph 21).

Official Receiver for Northern Ireland v Catherine Gallagher ([2013] NIMaster 12) (8 May 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/Master/2013/12.html

In Brief: OR failed to have matrimonial order set aside as a post-petition disposition, although managed to claw back funds intended for petitioner.

Although this is a Northern Ireland case, the arguments centre around Article 257 of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which pretty-much mirrors S284 of the Insolvency Act 1986, so I thought it was worth covering.

A bankruptcy petition was presented on 31 January 2011, but an order was only made on 13 January 2012. In the interim, the bankruptcy petition was removed from the bankruptcy court to the matrimonial court and a matrimonial agreement incorporating the transfer of the debtor’s interest in a property was made an order of court on 18 November 2011. The OR sought to have the order set aside, arguing that the petition should not have been moved to the matrimonial court and it should have been dealt with more expeditiously; had it been so, the OR argued that the bankruptcy order would have been made in all likelihood before the property adjustment orders were made.

The judge decided that, as the ancillary relief proceedings were High Court proceedings, the matrimonial court’s order fulfilled the Article 257 criteria in that the property adjustment orders had been made with the consent of the High Court and were therefore not void, save for the following.

One element of the matrimonial agreement was that £21,500 should be paid to the petitioning creditor. The judge noted that this was intended to enable the petition to be dismissed. Therefore, as it was not paid and the petitioning creditor had sought and obtained the bankruptcy order, the judge concluded that the sum should be paid to the OR as it formed part of the bankruptcy estate.


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Administration Tangles

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Ah, the Insolvency Act & Rules, what shall I compare thee to? Maybe an old Crown Derby figurine: looks in good nick when you first encounter it, but it’s only when you begin to handle it that you spot all number of hairline cracks and chips to the paint. I have been threatening to myself for many months now to blog on my top Act/Rules gripes. I have made a start here – with the tangle of provisions governing convening Administration meetings and fee approval – and I have many more that I intend to use as good blogging material for many months to come.

Administrators: To hold or not to hold a Creditors’ Meeting

Paragraph 52(1) of Schedule B1 of the Insolvency Act 1986 lists the circumstances in which the requirement to hold a creditors’ meeting to consider the Administrators’ Proposals shall not apply:

52(1) …where the statement of proposals states that the administrator thinks:

(a) That the company has sufficient property to enable each creditor of the company to be paid in full;
(b) That the company has insufficient property to enable a distribution to be made to unsecured creditors other than by virtue of Section 176A(2)(a) (“the prescribed part”); or
(c) That neither of the objectives specified in paragraph 3(1)(a) and (b) can be achieved

So if a creditors’ meeting is not held by reason of any of these circumstances, how does an Administrator get approval for his fees?

Rule 2.106(5A) states that “in a case where the administrator has made a statement under paragraph 52(1)(b)… the basis of the administrator’s remuneration may be fixed… by the approval of (a) each secured creditor of the company; or (b) if the administrator has made or intends to make a distribution to preferential creditors: (i) each secured creditor of the company; and (ii) preferential creditors whose debts amount to more than 50% of the preferential debts of the company, disregarding debts of any creditor who does not respond to an invitation to give or withhold approval”.

Therefore, it’s pretty clear (although see below) for Administrators who have made a Para 52(1)(b) statement, but what if they have made statement under either Para 52(1)(a) or (c)? They cannot use Rule 2.106(5A) and it seems to me that they have to use R2.106(5): “If… the case does not fall within paragraph 5A, the basis of the administrator’s remuneration may be fixed… by a resolution of a meeting of creditors” (or they can go to court, but only after they’ve tried to seek approval via (5)). Gripe number one: does anyone else think it’s nuts that the requirement to call a creditors’ meeting to consider the Administrator’s Proposals shall not apply, if he makes a Para 52(1)(a) or (c) statement, but then in those circumstances the only way it seems that he can get his fees approved is by a resolution of a meeting of creditors?! Some might suggest that this is met by the deemed approval route of R2.33(5), although personally I very much doubt it (as I do not think that Proposals “deemed to have been approved” equates to fees basis “deemed to have been fixed by a resolution of a meeting of creditors” and surely someone has to positively approve fees). At a stretch, I wonder if the drafter felt that, in Para 52(1)(a) or (c) cases, the rest of the Administrator’s Proposals were not up for discussion by the unsecureds – that would make sense, but then I still don’t understand why in those circumstances fee approval should rest with the unsecureds.

Is this just a theoretic gripe or can it arise in practice? Well, Para 52(1)(a) statements are extremely rare, but what about Para 52(1)(c) statements? How many Administrations end up simply meeting the third objective of “realising property in order to make a distribution to one or more secured or preferential creditors”? If that is the case, then take care that, if you make a Para 52(1)(c) statement, it seems (to me anyway) that you need to seek approval of your fees by a creditors’ meeting (or by correspondence, of course) resolution. This outcome also seems contrary to the so-called “spirit” of the Act/Rules, which I will return to later.

The Paragraph 52(1)(b) Statement

So let’s look a little closer at the Para 52(1)(b) statement that takes Administrators down the route of dispensing with a creditors’ meeting to consider their Proposals and seeking approval for their fees from secured (and preferential) creditors.

Firstly, how does an Administrator think about the outcome for creditors? If, as a creditor, you were to ask an office holder, “do you think I am going to get a dividend from this insolvency case?”, how would you expect him to answer you? Personally, I would expect him to consider what the realisations were likely to be, what costs were going to be deducted from those funds, and thus how much money was left over for creditors. I would accept that, if I look at the estimated Statement of Affairs as at the date of insolvency, the outcome does not incorporate the costs of administering the case, so this outcome is completely unrealistic. It does not reflect what the office holder thinks the outcome will be for creditors.

You might be wondering why I’m labouring such an obvious point. The issue is that I believe that opinions are divided on how Administrators should think about the likely outcome for creditors for the purposes of making Para 52(1)(b) statements: some believe it should be on a Statement of Affairs basis, i.e. exclusive of costs; others believe that the anticipated costs of the Administration should be taken into consideration. My personal view is that I believe that Para 52(1) asks the Administrator to think about the outcome and that any decision made without considering the likely costs that will be deducted is wholly unrealistic. However, I do accept that, in following what I believe is the letter of the Act, it could lead the Administrator in some circumstances down a route that does not observe the so-called “spirit” of the Act (see below), but what is an IP to do when he is expected to follow the Act/Rules?

I have another issue with the wording of Para 52(1)(b): what is meant by: “insufficient property to enable a distribution to be made to unsecured creditors other than by virtue of” the prescribed part”? At first glance, it suggests that a Para 52(1)(b) statement can only be made in cases where the Administrator thinks that there will be a prescribed part distribution (but no other unsecured dividend). But if that’s the case, then R2.106(5A)(a) would never kick in, as there would always be a pref distribution – in full – in order for there to be a prescribed part, so there would never be a case where only secured creditors’ approval – and not the prefs also – would be sufficient for fees. You could argue that R2.106(5A)(a) could be used in cases where there are no prefs, but then I still think R2.106(5A)(a) is unnecessary, as surely, with a bit of sensible drafting, you could just use the wording in (5A)(b) and accept that no prefs’ approval is needed as they don’t exist.

And does it make sense for Para 52(1)(b) to apply only when there is a prescribed part? As you know, the consequence of a Para 52(1)(b) statement is that the secureds (and prefs) have the authority to approve the Administrator’s fees. Does it make sense that, if unsecureds are only likely to receive something via a prescribed part, fees are approved by secureds (and prefs), but if unsecureds are not in the frame for any dividend at all (say, because the (net) realisations are going to be wiped out by the preferential claims or there is a pre-2003 debenture so that any surplus after the prefs goes to the secured creditor), the unsecureds get to approve the fees? If it is considered inappropriate from a policy point of view for unsecureds to have power over fees when there is likely to be only a prescribed part for them, then I would expect it to be considered similarly inappropriate for unsecureds to have such power when they are not likely to receive even a prescribed part. It seems to me that the policy point is that, just because S176A provides for a proportion of floating charge realisations to be divided off for the unsecureds, this does not mean that the floating charge-holder loses control over fees. If that is the policy, then it seems to me that Para 52(1)(b) only really makes sense if one reads it that it applies where there may, or may not be, a prescribed part distribution, but one thing is for certain: there is insufficient property to pay unsecureds a non-prescribed part dividend.

And who exactly are unsecured creditors? Another gripe of mine is that the Act/Rules – at least post-EA2002 – seem to have developed a convention of using the term “unsecured creditor” when referring only to non-preferential unsecured creditors. For example, R4.126(1E)(a)(xii) requires liquidators’ final reports to set out “the aggregate numbers of preferential and unsecured creditors”, which suggests that preferential creditors are not included in the unsecured creditors category. For definitions, we can look to S248, which states: “‘secured creditor’, in relation to a company, means a creditor of the company who hold in respect of his debt a security over property of the company, and ‘unsecured creditor’ is to be read accordingly”. So the Act, at least as originally drafted, acknowledges the reality that preferential creditors are included in “unsecured creditors”.

However, the concept that “unsecured creditors” includes prefs makes a nonsense of Para 52(1)(b), because in that case Para 52(1)(b) could not be used if the Administrator expected to pay prefs, although the only time R2.106(5A)(b) kicks in is when there is a pref distribution.

So, where does all that leave an IP who is simply trying to follow the Act/Rules? When should he be making Para 52(1)(b) statements?

The “Spirit” of the Act/Rules

Although I don’t think I’ve seen it written publicly or officially, I recall an exchange I had with someone at the Insolvency Service when I was at the IPA about the way the Administrators’ fees approval mechanism was intended to work. I believe the intention was that the creditors whose recovery prospects were affected by the Administrators’ fees would have authority to fix the basis of those fees – I don’t think anyone would disagree with that sensible principle. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to convert into legislation and, as I hope I demonstrate below, I do not believe it has been achieved.

As an example, take the argument above about whether the Administrator should think about the outcome to creditors before or after costs. Let me take a simple case: no prefs, just a fixed and floating charge creditor (fixed over a freehold property) and minimal floating charge assets. Before costs (i.e. on a Statement of Affairs (“SoA”) basis), the estimated-to-realise figures indicate that there would be a surplus available to unsecured creditors. However, when you take into consideration the likely costs of the administration (i.e. on an Estimated Outcome Statement (“EOS”) basis), it looks like the fixed charge surplus and the floating charge realisations are going to be eaten up in costs leaving nothing for the unsecureds. On that basis, it would seem that it would be fair for the unsecureds to have power over the fees, as they are the ones losing out by reason of the fees.

But what if the property value only just covers the secured creditor’s position – although the SoA still shows a small surplus for unsecureds – and therefore when the fees and costs are taken into consideration, there is a shortfall to the secured creditor? Now, it would not be fair to the secured creditor to look at it from an SoA basis – and give the power to the unsecureds who are losing very little by reason of the marginal surplus – but the EOS perspective would seem fairer.

But, in this scenario, to whom would you go for fees approval, if you were following the letter of the Act/Rules?

I attach here – Admin outcomes – a table on which I have tried to demonstrate the range of possible scenarios – both before and after costs – and the resultant party/parties holding power over the Administrator’s fees based on the alternative interpretations of the Act/Rules, together with who should have authority on the basis of what I think is the so-called spirit of the Act/Rules, as I’ve described it above. PLEASE NOTE, however, that I created this late at night and I haven’t checked it through. After a while, my mind boggled as I tried to picture the outcomes, Act/Rules interpretations, and which creditor(s) was/were being affected by the costs/fees. Whilst, as a consequence, I would not be surprised if I have got it wrong in some places, I think it demonstrates how none of the different interpretations of the Act/Rules reflects consistently the spirit (although it does show that some get it right more often than others). Thus, even if an IP tries to shoe-horn in a particular interpretation of an Act/Rules provision in a well-meaning attempt to reflect its spirit, they will come a cropper sooner or later if they consistently use that interpretation for every case.

Not all scenarios are explored by the attached table, for example where there is more than one secured creditor. The Act/Rules appear odd in the case of multiple secured creditors, because, rather than treating them as a queue of expectant claimants, only one of whom (assuming they have security over the same assets) is going to be impacted by the Administrator’s fees, they are treated as members of a group each with equal authority over the Administrator’s fees; in a Para 52(1)(b) case it seems that the approval to fees of all secured creditors must be sought.

But what if the company has several secured creditors who appear to have no financial interest – on either an SoA or EOS basis – by reason of the fact that the realisable value of the secured assets is only sufficient to return monies to the first charge-holder? It seems that this makes no difference – the approval of all secured creditors needs to be sought. And what if the subordinate uninterested charge-holders decline to respond to an invitation to give or withhold approval? It seems that the Act/Rules provide no solution… other than to apply to court under R2.106(6). This seems nonsensical: that a court order should be required to decide on an Administrator’s fees simply because a secured creditor, whose security is worthless, does not bother to respond to an invitation to approve the fees basis. The same seems to apply where there are priority secured creditors who are healthily secured and are facing zero risk of a shortfall whatever the fees are. Despite this, the Act/Rules still seem to require their positive approval of the fee basis (although there remains the thorny question as to whether they still count as a creditor once their debt has been discharged in full from the insolvent estate).

What about a different kind of multiple security case? What if a company has several creditors holding security over different assets, say a portfolio of mortgaged properties? The Act/Rules allow the Administrator to fix more than one fee basis “in respect of different things done by the administrator” (R2.106(3A)) and it would seem appropriate to go to each relevant secured creditor and ask for approval for fees, but only in relation to dealing with the property subject to that creditor’s security. However, I can see nothing in the Act/Rules that enables an Administrator to do that. It seems that every secured creditor needs to approve the Administrator’s fee basis in relation to everything that he does on the case, even if he is seeking to charge different bases for different items and irrespective of whether that secured creditor has any interest in the property that the Administrator is handling. I accept that in reality, if there are separate mortgaged properties involved, you might have some LPA/fixed charge receivers about, but you get my point, don’t you?

So where does that leave us? I think it leaves us with a tangle of statutory provisions governing one of the most sensitive areas of an IP’s activity – his fees – and, although I dread the day when I have to get my head around a completely new set of Rules, in some ways I feel that it cannot come soon enough.


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(1) Legal charge for bankruptcy annulment service unenforceable; (2) Employment Appeal Tribunal acknowledges company’s conflicting statutory duties; (3) English court leaves US to decide bankrupt’s COMI; (4) company restoration did not avoid administration-liquidation time gap; (5) what are TUPE “affected employees”?; (6) more on Jersey administration appeal

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Sorry guys, I’ve been storing up a few court decisions:

Consolidated Finance v Collins: legal charge resulting from bankruptcy annulment service unenforceable
AEI Cables v GMB: protective awards reduced in recognition of company’s conflicting statutory duties
Kemsley v Barclays Bank Plc: English court leaves US to decide bankrupt’s COMI
RLoans LLP v Registrar of Companies: company restoration did not avoid 2-year gap between administration and liquidation
I Lab Facilities v Metcalfe: redundant employees in non-transferred part of business not TUPE “affected employees”
HSBC Bank Plc v Tambrook Jersey: Court of Appeal’s reasons for reversing rejection of Jersey court’s request for administration

Out of the frying pan into the fire for bankrupts achieving annulments

Consolidated Finance Limited v Collins & Ors ([2013] EWCA Civ 473) 8 May 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/475.html

Summary: Appellants were successful in resisting the attempts of Consolidated Finance Limited (“Consolidated”) to enforce mortgages over their homes, mortgages which had arisen as a consequence of engaging the Bankruptcy Protection Fund Limited (“BPF”, “Protection”) to secure annulments of their bankruptcies. The agreements were found to be refinancing agreements and thus subject to the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the requirements of which Consolidated had not met.

Whilst the arguments centred around the construction and effects of the agreements, of greater interest to me are the judge’s criticisms of the transactions which, at least in the case examined as typical, were in his judgment manifestly to the bankrupt’s and her husband’s prejudice. He felt that some of the companies’ literature was misleading and noted that it made no mention of the “extraordinarily high rates of interest”. He also criticised the solicitors involved in the process, questioning whether they could avoid the duty to advise their clients, who were clearly entering into a transaction that was manifestly to their disadvantage, and suggested that they may have had “a conflict of irreconcilable interests” given their relationship with Consolidated and BPF.

The Detail: Five sets of appellants sought to resist Consolidated’s attempts to enforce mortgages over their homes. The judge focussed on the facts of Mr and Mrs Collins’ case as typical of all claims.

Mrs Collins had been made bankrupt owing a total of £13,544 to her creditors. She engaged the services of BPF to help her secure an annulment, given that the equity in her jointly-owned home was more than sufficient to cover all debts. Mrs Collins’ bankruptcy was annulled by reason of BPF settling all sums due by means of funds totalling £24,674 received from Consolidated. Under the terms of a Facility Letter, Consolidated agreed to make available a loan of £32,000 (which was also used to settle BPF’s fees), which was required to be repaid within three months after drawdown. Mr and Mrs Collins were unable to refinance their liabilities under the Facility Letter supported by a Legal Charge, resulting in Consolidated filing the claim, some 2.5 years later, for a total at that time of £77,385 inclusive of interest at 4% per month after the first three months (at 2.5% per month). The Facility Letter also provided for a so-called hypothecation fee of 2.5% of the principal and an exit fee of the greater of £3,000 and 2.5% of the principal.

Amongst other things, the appellants contended that the agreements under which they were alleged to have incurred the liabilities were regulated for the purposes of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (“the Act”) and did not comply with the requirements of the Act. Consolidated’s case was that it was a “restricted-use” agreement, which would lead it to be exempted from the requirements of the Act. The Collins’ argument was that, if anything, it was a refinancing agreement, which would mean that it was not exempt.

Sir Stanley Burton concluded from the documents that Mrs Collins was indebted to BPF for the sums advanced at least until the annulment order was made. “The effect of the Facility Letter was to replace her indebtedness to Protection, which was then payable, with that owed to Consolidated. In other words, the purpose of the agreement between Mrs Collins and Consolidated was to refinance her indebtedness to Protection” (paragraph 47). Consequently, it was a regulated agreement and it was common ground that it did not comply with the statutory requirements and was unenforceable in the present proceedings.

The judge felt inclined to air his concerns at the “unfairness” of the transactions between the Collins and BPF/Consolidated. He stated that, “at least in the case of Mr and Mrs Collins, the transactions were in my judgment manifestly to their prejudice… If they failed to refinance their liabilities to the companies, as has happened, and the Legal Charges granted to Consolidated were enforceable, it would not only be Mrs Collins’ equity in their home that would be in peril, but also that of Mr Collins. In other words, they were likely to lose their home. This was the very result that, according to the companies’ literature, entering into agreements with them would avoid, but with the added prejudice that the far greater sums sought by the companies would have to be paid out of the proceeds of sale of their home as against the sums due in the bankruptcy (for which Mr Collins had no liability)” (paragraph 56).

He also noted that the companies incur no risk in making the advance to the bankrupt, as they will only do so if there is sufficient equity in the property, and therefore “to suggest that they take any relevant risk, as they do by describing their services as ‘No win no fee’, is misleading” (paragraph 57). “Moreover, the companies’ advance literature… make no mention of the extraordinarily high rates of interest they charge, rates that are even more striking given that the indebtedness is fully secured” (paragraph 58).

The judge also criticised the solicitors who acted for Mrs Collins and who were introduced to her by BPF, a relationship which, he suggested, may have given them “a conflict of irreconcilable interests”. “It must, and certainly should, have been obvious to them that for the reasons I have given the transactions with Mr and Mrs Collins were manifestly to their disadvantage. Mrs Collins was their client. I raise the question whether in such circumstances a solicitor can properly avoid a duty to advise his client by excluding that duty from his retainer, as LF sought to do” (paragraph 59).

Employment Appeal Tribunal acknowledges insolvent employer’s Catch-22, but only drops protective awards by a third

AEI Cables Limited v GMB & Ors ([2013] UKEAT 0375/12) (5 April 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0375_12_0504.html

Summary: Having consulted IPs and failed to seek additional funding, the company decided to make employees in one division redundant and keep another division running with a view to proposing a CVA. The CVA was approved, but the dismissed employees were granted the maximum 90 days protective awards, as the company had failed completely to consult with the trade unions/employee representatives as required by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

The company sought to have the protective awards reduced. The Appeal Tribunal acknowledged that it was unreasonable to expect the company to have continued to trade while insolvent to enable it to comply with the consultation requirements of the Act – the company could have consulted, at most, for 10 days – and that the Employment Tribunal should have considered why the company acted as it did. The protective awards were reduced to 60 days.

The Detail: Around the middle of May 2011, insolvency practitioners warned the company that, unless they took action, they risked trading whilst insolvent. Following a failure to secure additional funding from the bank, the decision was made to close the company’s cable plant, leading to the redundancy of 124 employees, but continue to trade the domestic division, which employed 189 people, and seek to agree a CVA. On 27 May 2011, the 124 employees were dismissed with immediate effect and later a CVA was approved on 24 June 2011.

An Employment Tribunal found that the company had failed to consult with trade unions and employee representatives as required by S188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. The company raised no special circumstances in an attempt to excuse non-compliance, but it did appeal the length of the protective awards, which had been granted for the full 90 days.

The reasoning of the Appeal Tribunal went like this: “We very much bear in mind that the purpose of making a protective award is penal, it is not compensatory. It is penal in the sense that it is designed to encourage employers to comply with their obligations under sections 188 and 189. We also bear in mind that the starting point in considering the length of a protective award is 90 days. Nonetheless Employment Tribunals are bound to take account of mitigating factors and are bound to ask the important question why did the respondent act as it did. Had the Employment Tribunal asked this question it could not possibly have ignored the fact and the conclusion that the company simply was unable to trade lawfully after the advice it had received on 25 May. In those circumstances, it is clearly wrong for the Employment Tribunal to anticipate that a 90 day consultation period could have started” (paragraph 22). In this case, the Appeal Tribunal noted that the company could have started consultation around 17 to 20 May, when it seems the company first consulted the IPs, but there had been no consultation or no real provision of information at all before the dismissals on 27 May. “However, because in our opinion the Employment Tribunal failed to have sufficient regard to the insolvency and the consequences of trading and that a consultation period of 90 was simply not possible, the award of 90 days cannot stand” (paragraph 23). The protective awards were reduced to 60 days.

English court leaves US to decide bankrupt’s COMI

Kemsley v Barclays Bank Plc & Ors ([2013] EWHC 1274 (Ch)) (15 May 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2013/1274.html

Summary: An English bankrupt sought to have US proceedings against him restrained. The English court declined to intervene, observing that the Trustee’s ongoing application in the US Bankruptcy Court for recognition under UNCITRAL of the English bankruptcy would decide the bankrupt’s fate.

The Detail: On 26 March 2012, Kemsley was made bankrupt on his own petition. Shortly before this, Barclays commenced proceedings against him in New York (and later in separate proceedings in Florida). Kemsley’s Trustee applied to the US Bankruptcy Court for recognition under UNCITRAL of the English bankruptcy as a foreign main proceeding. At the time of this hearing, judgment on the Trustee’s application had not yet been given, but the New York proceedings had been adjourned awaiting the outcome.

Kemsley applied to the English court to restrain Barclays from continuing with either the New York or the Florida proceedings. The issue for Kemsley was that, although he would be discharged from his English bankruptcy on 26 March 2013, if Barclays were successful in the New York proceedings, that judgment would be enforceable for 20 years in the US and other jurisdictions that would recognise it.

Mr Justice Roth noted a couple of authorities, which followed the principle that “there must be a good reason why the decision to stop foreign proceedings should be made here rather than there. The normal assumption is that the foreign judge is the person best qualified to decide if the proceedings in his court should be allowed to continue. Comity demands a policy of non-intervention” (paragraph 30).

The judge noted that, if the English bankruptcy were recognised as foreign main proceedings on the basis that England was Kemsley’s COMI, the New York and the Florida proceedings would be stayed. But what if the US Court finds that Kemsley’s COMI was the USA? In that case, would it be right for the English court to intervene? As Roth J observed: “either Mr Kemsley’s COMI was in England, in which case an anti-suit injunction is unnecessary; or it was in the United States, in which case I regard such an injunction as wholly inappropriate” (paragraph 50). Consequently, Roth J dismissed the application.

In a postscript to the judgment, it was reported that the Trustee’s application for recognition was refused by the US court. The court found that, at the time of the petition, Kemsley’s COMI was in the USA.

Company restoration of no use to petitioner, as it left a 2-year gap between administration and liquidation

RLoans LLP v Registrar of Companies ([2012] EWHC B33 (Comm)) (30 November 2012)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2012/B33.html

Summary: A creditor sought the restoration of a dissolved company to the register in order to pursue a preference claim. The company had been moved to dissolution from administration in 2010, so the petitioner sought a winding-up order that would follow on immediately from the administration so that the preference claim was not already out of time.

The judge restored the company and ordered the winding-up, but noted that this did not deal with the 2-year gap between insolvency proceedings. This was because he felt that, on filing the form under paragraph 84 of Schedule B1, the administration had ceased, dissolution being a later consequence, and so the eradication of the dissolution merely brought the company back to the position after the end of the administration.

The Detail: To enable a preference claim to be pursued, RLoans LLP sought the restoration of a company to the register and a winding-up order to take effect retrospectively from the date that the former Administrators’ notice of move to dissolution was registered. The transaction that is subject to the preference allegation occurred in March 2006; Administrators were appointed in January 2007 and they submitted the form to move the company to dissolution in June 2010. Therefore, only if the company’s restoration was accompanied by a continuation of insolvency proceedings – either a liquidation following immediately on the cessation of the administration or an extension of the original administration – would the preference claim have any chance due to the timescales involved; it would be of no use to the petitioner if the commencement of the winding-up were the date of restoration.

Mr Registrar Jones had no difficulty deciding that it was just to restore the company to the register. However, he concluded that the resultant fiction that the dissolution had not occurred had no effect on the cessation of the administration: “when paragraph 84 of Schedule B1 to the Act prescribes that the appointment ceases upon registration of the notice, it means that there is no longer any administration in existence. The cessation is not dependent upon dissolution taking place” (paragraph 26). Therefore, there would still be a gap of over two years between the end of the administration and the start of any winding-up, which would not help the petitioner. The judge also felt that the solution did not lie in extending retrospectively the original administration, because the company had ceased to be in administration before its dissolution; all the current direction could do was to restore the company to the position it was in before dissolution.

In the absence of the recipient of the alleged preference, the judge was not prepared to consider suspending the limitation period between the end of the administration and the commencement of liquidation. Therefore, all he did was restore the company to the register and order its winding-up. He also declined to order that the IP waiting in the wings be appointed liquidator: “I only have power to make the appointment if a winding up order is made ‘immediately upon the appointment of an administrator ceasing to have effect’ (see section 140 of the Act). For the reasons set out above, that has not occurred” (paragraph 61).

Another Employment Appeal Tribunal: “affected employees” narrowed for TUPE consultation purposes

I Lab Facilities Limited v Metcalfe & Ors ([2013] UKEAT 0224/12) (25 April 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2013/0224_12_2504.html

Summary: Staff employed in one part of the business were not “affected employees” under the consultation requirements of TUPE, because they had not been affected by the transfer of the other part of the business, but by the closure of their business. The fact that the original plan had been that their part of the business would also transfer was not relevant, but rather it was what was finally transferred that was relevant for TUPE consultation purposes.

The Detail: I Lab (UK) Limited (“ILUK”) operated a business providing rushes and post-production work to the film and television industry. On 11 June 2009, the post-production staff were given notice of redundancy, but also were told that the plan was that some of them would be hired on new contracts. However it seems that the plan changed; the company was placed into liquidation on 30 July 2009 and on 11 August 2009 assets relating to the rushes part of its business were sold to I Lab Facilities Limited and no new contracts were made with the former post-production staff.

The Employment Tribunal found that ILUK had failed to comply with regulation 13 of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (“TUPE”), but the transferee appealed on the ground that the post-production staff were not “affected employees” for the purposes of TUPE, because that part of the business had not transferred, and thus they had not been entitled to consultation. The Appeal Tribunal agreed – the post-production staff had not been affected by the transfer, but by the closure of the business. However, Counsel for the employees argued that it had been the original plan – which would have affected the post-production staff also – that had generated the requirement to consult.

The Appeal Tribunal reasoned: “It is necessary to appreciate that the time at which an employer must comply with the obligations under regulation 13 (2) and (6) is not defined by reference to when he first ‘envisages’ that he will take the relevant ‘measures’. Rather, the obligation is to take the necessary steps ‘long enough before’ the transfer to allow consultation to take place. That being so, it can never be said definitively that the employer is in breach of that obligation until the transfer has occurred” (paragraph 20). Consequently, as the indirect impact of the actual transfer of the rushes business did not make the post-production staff “affected employees”, the appeal was allowed.

Court of Appeal re-opens the way for administrations of overseas companies

HSBC Bank Plc v Tambrook Jersey Limited ([2013] EWCA Civ 576) (22 May 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/576.html

Summary: As reported in an earlier post (http://wp.me/p2FU2Z-38), the Court of Appeal overturned a rejection of an application for an Administration Order over a Jersey company.

The Detail: At first instance, Mann J said that an Administration Order could not be made under S426, as the English Court was not being asked to “assist” the Jersey Court in any endeavour as there were no proceedings afoot in Jersey.

In the appeal, Lord Justice Davis expressed the view that, with all respect to Mann J, “his interpretation and approach were unduly and unnecessarily restrictive” (paragraph 35). His first point was that “S426(4) is not by its actual wording applicable (notwithstanding the title to the section) to courts exercising jurisdiction in relating to insolvency law: it is by its wording applicable to courts having jurisdiction” (paragraph 36) and, in any event, Davis J felt that the Jersey court was engaged in an endeavour: “the endeavour was to further the interests of this insolvent company and its creditors and to facilitate the most efficient collection and administration of the Company’s assets” (paragraph 41) and thus the Royal Court of Jersey made the request that it did to the English Court.