Gategroup: A seminal and questionable judgment on gatekeeping viz restructuring ‘Plans’ under the Lugano Convention, Insolvency Regulation.

Zacaroli J this morning held in Gategroup Guarantee Ltd, Re [2021] EWHC 304 (Ch) on whether ‘part 26A’ English restructuring ‘Plans’ (see my review of ia Deep Ocean) are within the scope of the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception (Lugano rather than Brussels Ia was engaged).

He held they are, leading to neutralisation of an exclusive choice of court agreement in the relevant bonds, and making the courts of England and Wales have jurisdiction despite this choice of court.

Oddly Kaupthing was not referred to. Neither was Enasarco.

The judge relied unconvincingly in my view on the dovetail discussion (most recently discussed by me viz Alpine Bau) under the Brussels IA Recast and the EU Insolvency Regulation (‘EIA’)- neither of course applicable to the UK anymore, as indeed is the case for the Lugano Convention.

All in all this is a case in which the  reasoning has a potentially long term impact. The claim form in this case was issued on 30 December 2020. As such, by reason of Regulation 92(1), (2)(d) and (3) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, the Lugano Convention continues to apply.

The Plan Company was incorporated on 8 December 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of gategroup Holding AG (the ‘Parent’, a company incorporated in Switzerland. At [55] , if Lugano applies to applications under Part 26A, then the Plan Company accepts that by reason of A23(1) Lugano and the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of Zurich in the Bonds, this court has no jurisdiction. That acceptance is made notwithstanding that the Deed Poll contains a non-exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of England. The Plan Company acknowledges that since the purpose of the Plan is to effect amendments to the terms of the Bonds, the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds is engaged.

The usual modus operandi of assuming application of Brussels Ia arguendo (see viz schemes of arrangement most recently KCA Deutag and viz Plans Deep Ocean and Virgin) did not fly here for as noted the Plan Company accepts that the exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the Zurich courts is a complete bar to this court assuming jurisdiction if the Lugano Convention applies (in the preceding cases the point need not be decided, since jurisdiction under BIa could be established arguendo as in none of them was there adversarial argument on the point).

At 70 Justice Zacaroli introduces effectively an amicus curiae by Kirkland & Ellis, opposing the view that the insolvency exception applies.

At 73 ff a first point is considered: Part 26A Plans have not been notified under the EIA Annex. This refers to the so-called dovetailing between Brussels Ia, Lugano and the EIR. The suggestion is that if a procedure is not listed in Annex A EIR, it is conclusively not an insolvency proceeding and “that is the end of the matter” because the dovetailing principle leads inexorably to the conclusion that it falls within the Recast (‘and thus within the Lugano Convention’  [73]). At 82 the judge incidentally is under the impression that the older, heavier procedure of amendment by (EP and Council) Regulation applies – which it no longer does since the EIR 2015.

I have since long submitted that there is no such dovetail. It is also clear that there cannot be identity of interpretation between the Lugano Convention’s insolvency exception and the Brussels regime given that non-EU Lugano States are not part of the EIR. The judge confirms as much at 81 and at 91 ff  and, in a first approach, revisits the principles of modified universalism and the origin of the insolvency exception in particular in the Jenard report. He holds at 103 that the ratio behind the insolvency exception in the Rapport Jenard is the same as the ratio behind Plans, hence that the exception applies.

In a second (presumably subsidiary) approach, the judge queries whether proceedings under Part 26A comply with the abstract requirements for an ‘insolvency’ procedure under of A1(1) EIR and finds at 133 that they do. I am really not convinced by the relevance of that analysis. He includes at 134 ff an argument that the Dutch ‘WHOA’ (Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord) proceedings are to be included in Annex A. Again I am not convinced that serves much purpose. Member States populate the Annex and a Member State proposal for inclusion is not checked against A1(1) EIR.

Conclusion on the jurisdictional issue at 137: ‘proceedings under Part 26A are within the bankruptcy exclusion in the Lugano Convention. This court accordingly has jurisdiction notwithstanding the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Bonds.’

A most relevant judgment, on which the issues are not at all clear. Expect appeal lest the restructuring timing has made this nugatory – settling these issues would most certainly be welcome.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, paras 2.73 ff (2.81 ff in particular) and 5.35 ff.

 

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