Insolvency Oracle

Developments in UK insolvency by Michelle Butler


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Not the Game appeal

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Plenty of comprehensive summaries of the Game appeal have been produced, so I cover here some lesser-known judgments:

Salliss v Hunt – a Deputy Registrar’s approval of a Trustee’s fees basis being switched from percentage to time costs comes under scrutiny
LSI 2013 Limited v The Solar Panel (UK) Company Limited – how presenting contingent creditors in a CVA proposal may have unintended consequences
Credit Lucky Limited v NCA – a Company’s attempt to escape a winding-up in favour of an Administration Order fails
Day v Shaw & Shaw – spouse entitled to an equity of exoneration even though the co-owner was not the principal debtor

A couple of useful summaries of the Game appeal can be found at: http://lexisweb.co.uk/blog/randi/landlords-can-rejoice-following-the-game-administration-decision/ and http://www.11sb.com/pdf/insider-note-cofa-game-decision-26-feb-2014.pdf.

(UPDATE: Game Retail’s application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is expected to be heard in November 2014.)

(UPDATE 02/11/2014: The Supreme Court refused Game Retail permission to appeal on the basis that “the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court at this time bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.” (http://goo.gl/cWWuDs))

Baister’s Practice Statement applied to Trustee’s request to switch fees basis from percentage to time costs

Salliss v Hunt (10 February 2014) ([2014] EWHC 229 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/229.html

The Chancellor of the High Court opened his judgment by calling this a “regrettable case of litigation”, which should have been avoided.

Mr Salliss had been made bankrupt in 1993 on the petition of Barclays Bank plc, which appeared to have been owed over £2m originally. The creditors approved the Trustee’s fees as the first £2,000 realised and thereafter on the OR’s scale.

The only assets were pension plans. These had not been realised, but when Mr Salliss reached 65 in 2007 he began working on an annulment so that he could draw down on the pensions. He paid the claims of his creditors other than Barclays, which had not submitted a proof of debt and, when pressed, confirmed that it had withdrawn its right to claim in the bankruptcy due to the age of the case.

Then the court applications began…

Salliss applied for an annulment, but the Trustee’s report indicated that his time costs were almost £40,000 and other costs and expenses were £24,000. Salliss put forward an accountant’s report that stated that strictly the Trustee was not entitled to any remuneration, in view of the basis agreed by creditors.

The Trustee applied for an order that Salliss sign the necessary forms so that the Trustee could realise his interest in the pensions. The Trustee also applied to change the basis of his fees from the agreed percentage basis to time costs. Nine months on, the Trustee’s fees and costs had increased from £64,000 to over £150,000.

All three applications came before the Deputy Registrar, who rejected the annulment application, but granted the Trustee’s two applications. He considered that time costs was the only appropriate basis “because even though the bankruptcy commenced more than 19 years ago there is still uncertainty as to what might be realised and when if it continues and in any event the extent of the time necessarily and unavoidably spent by Mr Hunt and his staff already is such that a percentage basis of any kind could not, in my view, result in appropriate remuneration, especially as yet further time would have to be spent the amount of which cannot be anticipated” (paragraph 35). He had also been reluctant to ignore Barclays’ debt entirely, given the precedent of Gill v Quinn, which had involved the rejection of an annulment because of a number of creditors’ silence to invitations to prove their debts.

At the appeal, the Chancellor’s view was that this case was quite different to Gill v Quinn and that the evidence showed that Barclays had taken “an informed policy decision that it would not then or in the future lodge a proof in respect of any debt in Mr Salliss’ bankruptcy” (paragraph 41) and therefore Barclays’ debt was irrelevant to the annulment application.

He also felt that the Deputy Registrar’s approach to the remuneration application was flawed. He felt that insufficient regard had been given to Chief Registrar Baister’s Practice Statement on the fixing and approval of the remuneration of appointees, which, contrary to the Deputy Registrar’s view, he felt was relevant to applications to have a fees basis changed as well as fixed by the court. With the Practice Direction in mind, the Chancellor stated that the proper approach “is to begin by asking what has changed and was not foreseen and could not have been foreseen when the creditors made their decision” (paragraph 51). In this case, it had always been known that the assets were limited, but the Trustee had been content to continue to act under the creditors’ resolution. The Chancellor commented that “the usual and proper course should be for the trustee to apply to the court for a change in the basis of remuneration as soon as it becomes clear that an application will be necessary in order to make the remuneration (in the words of the Practice Direction) fair, reasonable and commensurate with the nature and extent of the work properly to be undertaken by the appointee. In other words, the application should, so far as practicable, be prospective and not retrospective. Unless there is some good and proper reason to do otherwise, it is not appropriate for the trustee to wait until all the work is done and then apply to the court as a ‘fait accompli’ for a retrospective change in the remuneration resolved by the creditors” (paragraph 53).

The Chancellor decided that the annulment and the remuneration applications should be set aside, although he felt unable to determine them on the appeal. He did, however, draw attention to “the considerable increase in the bankruptcy fees and expenses… in substance due to the time, cost and expense of litigating over the costs, expenses and remuneration at the date of the Trustee’s Report” (paragraph 52) and questioned whether the matter could have been brought to a swift conclusion far earlier, when the pension plans’ lump sum might have been sufficient to meet all the costs and expenses.

The consequences of presenting contingent creditors in CVA proposals

LSI 2013 Limited v The Solar Panel (UK) Company Limited (14 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 248 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/248.html

The Company appealed a winding-up order on the ground that the Deputy District Judge had been wrong to treat the petitioning creditor as a contingent creditor, when the petition debt was genuinely disputed on substantial grounds.

At the appeal, counsel for the petitioning creditor focussed on a draft proposal for the Company’s CVA, which had listed the petitioner as a contingent creditor, albeit only for £1, and did not refer to the claim as disputed; the IP who had drafted the CVA proposal clearly would have understood the distinction between contingent claims and disputed debts. Consequently, the Deputy District Judge had accepted that the Company was insolvent and that the petitioning creditor was a contingent creditor and thus the winding-up petition had been granted.

His Honour Judge Hodge QC felt that the Deputy District Judge had attached too much weight to the reference in the CVA proposal – which was described as draft and had not been signed by the director – that the creditor was contingent and, in any event, it also stated that £1 was the total claim the creditor would have in a terminal insolvency. Hodge HHJ also noted that the petition had not been founded on the petitioner being a contingent creditor and that the Deputy District Judge had not considered the counter-claim. The outcome was that the winding-up order was set aside and the case was remitted to the Bristol District Registry with a view to considering the merits of the dispute.

No escaping a winding-up order in favour of administration

Credit Lucky Limited & Anor v National Crime Agency (29 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 83 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/83.html

The Company applied for the winding-up order against it to be rescinded, varied or reviewed, or alternatively stayed. Amongst its arguments were that the director wanted to pursue a tax assessment appeal, which the liquidator regarded without merit and did not intend to pursue and that, if the tax assessment were challenged successfully, the director felt that there was every prospect of the creditors being paid in full. The director also intended to apply for an Administration Order so that the Company’s goodwill, name and database could be sold to a third party, which had made an offer conditional on the winding-up order being rescinded.

The judge had several concerns over the conditional offer, which led him to reject the application for rescission. He also did not see why someone should only be prepared to purchase the goodwill, name and database from an administrator and not from a liquidator. He felt that it was implausible that these assets would be more valuable if the Company “‘cleared its name’ by prosecuting and winning the tax appeal” (paragraph 40).

He also felt it was inappropriate to grant a stay: although the liquidator is obliged to take all reasonable steps the maximise asset realisations and therefore is entitled to decide whether to pursue an action in the name of the Company, if the Company or another interested party believes that the tax appeal should be pursued, “it is open to them to apply to the court for a direction which would enable them to prosecute the Tax Appeal in the name of the company or the liquidator. That being so it is difficult to see how – on the assumption that there is, contrary to the liquidator’s view, some merit in the Tax Appeal – the refusal of a stay would result in irremediable loss” to the Company or its shareholder (paragraph 64).

Equity of exoneration with a twist

Day v Shaw & Shaw (17 January 2014) ([2014] EWHC 36 (Ch))

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2014/36.html

This case differed from the usual equity of exoneration scenario in that the principal debtor to the secured creditor was, not a co-owner of the property, but Mr Shaw’s limited company, “Avon”, that had gone into liquidation and that, although Mr and Mrs Shaw had granted a charge over their property, the debt to the bank was also secured by reason of personal guarantees by Mr Shaw and the couple’s daughter, Mrs Shergold. Mr Day’s interest in the case arose because he had obtained a charging order over Mr Shaw’s interest in the property, so he was keen to contend that Mrs Shaw was not entitled to an equity of exoneration, but that the debt due to the bank should be borne equally by the shares of Mr and Mrs Shaw in the proceeds of the sale of the property.

At first instance, the judge had decided that Mrs Shaw was entitled to an equity of exoneration. On the appeal, Mr Day contended that, if the judge had treated Avon as the principal debtor, the conclusion would have been that the equity of exoneration did not apply to the property jointly owned by Mr and Mrs Shaw.

The question for Mr Justice Morgan was whether Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold, as guarantors, and Mr and Mrs Shaw, as mortgagors, were all sureties of the same rank or was one group effectively sub-sureties for the other? The conclusion he reached was that “it is clear that in substance, Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold were sureties for the debt of Avon and Mr and Mrs Shaw, as mortgagors, were sub-sureties. I do not consider that the guarantors and the mortgagors can be considered to be co-sureties equally liable for the principal debt. The result is that the sub-sureties (Mr and Mrs Shaw) are entitled to be indemnified by the sureties (Mr Shaw and Mrs Shergold) in just the same way as a surety is entitled to be indemnified by a principal debtor” (paragraph 26). It follows that for the purposes of the equity of exoneration, Mrs Shaw can establish that she is entitled to be indemnified by Mr Shaw in relation to the debt owed to Barclays” (paragraph 30).

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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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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.