Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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A brief briefing

Apologies for the silence – I’ve been enjoying the gorgeous sunshine blazing on Hawaii’s beaches and some exhilarating hikes across fresh lava fields (which is more my style)…

IMGP7906 lowres

In an attempt to get back on track, this is a brief update on case law that had accumulated before my trip:

• Valuing contingent claims
• What documents are Provisional Liquidators entitled to recover?
• COMI: Dublin v Belfast
• Iceland v Scotland: Nice try, Landsbanki
• Judge erred in dismantling component parts of circumstantial case of gratuitous alienation

Valuing contingent claims

Ricoh Europe Holdings BV & Ors v Spratt & Milsom [2013] EWCA Civ 92 (19 February 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/92.html

A group of creditors who had submitted contingent claims in an MVL believed that the liquidators should have reserved funds to cover the full possible value of their claims before paying a distribution to members. On appeal, this court agreed with the previous judge: “there are, I think, real difficulties in seeing how a liquidator who has already valued the contingent claims and so admitted them to proof in the amount of the valuation comes under a legal duty to provide for the contingency in full by making a reserve against any distribution to members” (paragraph 37).

The creditors had also disputed the value placed on the contingent claims; the liquidators had worked on the basis of an assessment of the most likely outcome, rather than a worst case scenario. The judge agreed with the liquidators’ approach: “It seems to me that any valuation of a contingent liability must be based on a genuine and fair assessment of the chances of the liability occurring… There is nothing in IR 4.86 which requires the liquidator to guarantee a 100% return on the indemnity by assuming a worst-case scenario in favour of the creditors” (paragraph 43).

What documents are provisional liquidators entitled to recover?

Caldero Trading Limited v Beppler & Jacobson Limited & Ors [2012] EWHC 4031 (Ch) (14 December 2012)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2012/4031.html

The application centred around provisional liquidators’ (“PLs”) attempts to take possession of documents in the hands of the director, but his solicitors’ argument was that they should be entitled to review the documents and only provide to the PLs those that met the definition in the court order describing the PLs’ powers: “documents reasonably necessary solely for protecting and preserving the assets” of the company.

The judge decided that the court order did indeed restrict the scope of documents to which the PLs could have access: “The conclusion might be surprising, bearing in mind that prima facie the provisional liquidators have a right to call for all the books in which the company has a proprietary interest, but that prima facie right has, in my judgment, been deliberately cut down by the terms of paragraph 7.2 [of the previous court order]. Their entitlement is, therefore, to categories of document which fall within the definition. It follows that the provisional liquidators have no right, in my judgment, to call for documents which do not fall within the category as defined” (paragraph 78). However, the judge did not feel that it was appropriate that the director’s solicitors’ control the review process, but he invited the PLs to provide a more specific description of the documents of which they were seeking possession.

COMI: Dublin v Belfast

ACC Bank Plc v McCann [2013] NIMaster 1 (28 January 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/nie/cases/NIHC/Master/2013/1.html

This is another COMI case involving a business consultant who moved from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland and was made bankrupt in NI the day before another creditor’s petition resulted in a second bankruptcy order in Dublin. The RoI creditor sought the annulment of the NI bankruptcy order on the ground that there had been a procedural irregularity in the hearing.

The judge found that the hearing had been procedurally irregular and should not have taken place; it should not have been an expedited hearing and, in light of the fact that there were two competing sets of bankruptcy proceedings, the court had been incapable of being satisfied that it had jurisdiction to make the NI bankruptcy order without hearing evidence from both the debtor and the RoI petitioner.

The judge also concluded on the evidence provided to him that the debtor’s COMI was not in NI. The judge made some interesting comments about the events leading to the NI petition, which was based on rent arrears of £1,402 arising from a house share agreement on the debtor’s NI address: he noted the incomplete affidavit of service of the statutory demand; the apparent lack of interest shown by the petitioner in the debtor’s ability to discharge the debt; the fact that he was in a position to pay the debt; and that “the Petitioner and the Respondent were at the very least acquaintances, if not friends” (paragraph 29).

Iceland v Scotland: Nice try, Landsbanki

Joint Administrators of Heritable Bank Plc v The Winding-Up Board of Landsbanki Islands hf [2013 UKSC 13 (27 February 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/13.html
Summary at: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/13.(image1).pdf

The joint administrators of Heritable Bank Plc (“Heritable”) rejected a claim submitted by Landsbanki Islands hf (“Landsbanki”) on the ground of set-off. Landsbanki’s winding-up board also rejected three of Heritable’s claims. Landsbanki’s winding-up board argued that, as they had rejected Heritable’s claims in the Icelandic proceedings, this decision applied to Heritable’s administration and thus Heritable had no claims available to set off against Landsbanki’s claim. They sought to rely on Regulation 5 of the UK’s Credit Institutions (Reorganisation and Winding Up) Regulations 2004, which resulted from an EC Directive.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Landsbanki’s appeal. The court stated that Regulation 5 “is not concerned in the least with the effects of the mandatory choice of Scots law for the administration of Heritable in Scotland” (paragraph 58). In this case, other Regulations were relevant and these resulted in the conclusion that the general law of insolvency for UK credit institutions is UK insolvency law.

Judge erred in dismantling component parts of circumstantial case of gratuitous alienation

Henderson v Foxworth Investments Limited & Anor [2013] ScotCS CSIH 13 (1 March 2013)

http://www.bailii.org/scot/cases/ScotCS/2013/2013CSIH13.html

The Inner House upheld the liquidator’s appeal in respect of a gratuitous alienation challenge: “In this admittedly complex case it seems to me that, while the Lord Ordinary very properly acknowledged that there were unsatisfactory and indeed suspicious events and transactions, and while he recorded matters which he found inexplicable, questionable, difficult to believe, and even ‘damning’… he did not take the final step of (i) clearly recognising that there was a significant circumstantial case pointing to a network of transactions entered into with the purpose of keeping Letham Grange (valued at £1.8 million) out of the control of the liquidator, and (ii) explaining why, nevertheless, he was not persuaded that the liquidator should succeed. Rather the Lord Ordinary dismissed or neutralised individual pieces of evidence without, in my view, giving satisfactory reasons for doing so, thus dismantling the component parts of any circumstantial case which was emerging from the evidence, but without first having acknowledged the existence and strength of that circumstantial case, and then explaining why he rejected it” (paragraph 78).

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I’ve spotted some more recent cases since my return from Hawaii – and I see that the consultations on draft revised SIPs 3, 3A, and 16 have now been issued, excellent! – but they’ll all have to keep for future posts.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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