Posts Tagged Universality

International Bank of Azerbaijan: Principle or practice of ‘modified universalism’ in (cram-down resulting from) insolvency proceedings.

[2018] EWHC 59 (Ch) International Bank of Azerbaijan is an excellent illustration of the practicality v the doctrine of modified universalism in international insolvency law, as well as of the binding force of precedent even in a changing world. Hildyard J first summarises at 2 the question raised as ‘whether the Court has power to grant a permanent moratorium or stay to prevent a creditor exercising its rights under a contract governed by English law in order to prevent that creditor enforcing its rights contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding by which all creditors were, under the relevant foreign law, intended to be bound. If it does, the second question is whether in its discretion the Court should exercise that power.’

IBA has fallen into financial difficulties, obliging it to enter into a restructuring proceeding under Azeri law. The Foreign Representative, Ms Gunel Bakhshiyeva (hence also giving her name to the official case-name) had the High Court issue an order  recognising the Restructuring Proceeding as a foreign main proceeding. That recognition order imposes a wide-ranging moratorium preventing creditors from commencing or continuing any action against IBA or its property without the permission of the Court.  The plan proposed by IBA pursuant to the restructuring proceeding has been approved by a substantial majority at a meeting of creditors in Azerbaijan, sanctioned by the relevant Azeri court, and as a matter of Azeri law, the plan is now binding on all affected creditors, including those who did not vote and those who voted against the Plan: a classic cram-down.

Respondents in the case contend that the plan cannot bind them. In each case their relationship as creditor with IBA is governed by English law. They rely on the (1890) rule in Gibbs, which states that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged by a foreign insolvency proceeding. Reformulating the essential issues at 19, Hildyard J summarises them as

(1) Whether the Court has jurisdiction to extend a moratorium imposed under the CBIR without limit as to time, and in particular, beyond the date on which the foreign proceeding will terminate; and

(2) If so, whether the Court should refuse to lift the continuing moratorium in favour of a creditor whose debt is governed by English law, so as to prevent that creditor from achieving a better return than that enjoyed by all of the company’s other creditors under a restructuring plan promulgated in the jurisdiction in which the company is registered and has its centre of main interests (“COMI”).

At 44 ff Hildyard J excellently summarises the rule, and the critical reception of it in recent scholarship, the latter suggesting it is not just out of touch with a less anglo-centric view of the world, but also inconsistent with the English courts themselves expecting foreign recognition of schemes of arrangement (SAs being of a corporate, not lex concursus nature but nevertheless fishing in the same waters as insolvency proceedings) conducted in the English courts with English law as the lex causae.

Having summed up all the arguments against the rule and yet recent continued application of it, Hildyard J at 58 dryly notes that his place in the hierarchy means that he cannot simply swipe the rule aside: he must apply it and simply assess whether it applies in the current circumstances. More particularly, whether at one and the same time the ‘rule’ may formally be observed by accepting the continuation of the rights which English law confers, and yet also the principles of modified universalism which the UNCITRAL Model Law gives effect to.

Lengthy discussion then follows of the pros and contras, with the High Court eventually finding no persuasive argument to set aside the rule, particularly not by the English application of the UNCITRAL model law. Counsel had argued that qualifying the model law as procedural as opposed to substantive law, would enable the Court effectively to sidestep Gibbs as precedent. However Hildyard J prefered to accept the full force of precedent rather than sweeping it aside by the procedural pretext.

The substantive rule clearly is ripe for reconsideration by the Court of Appeal.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1.

 

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Hooley: Modified universalism outside the EU’s Insolvency Regulation.

Hooley [Hooley v The Victoria Jute Company Ltd and others [2016] CSOH 14] has been sitting in my in-box for a few months. It concerns the liquidation (particularly: selling of companies’ assets by liquidators under Scots law) of companies incorporated in Scotland but with COMI (centre of main interests) outside the EU. In particular, India.

Given the presence of COMI outside the EU, the Insolvency Regulation does not apply. Indeed the Court of Session (Lord Tyre) does not refer to it at all.Findings would have been very different were the Regulation to apply: place of incorporation has to give way to COMI, where these two do not coincide, in which circumstance the place of incorporation at best may open secondary proceedings.

At issue was among others (and for the first time in a Scots court, I understand) the consideration of ‘modified universalism’: ie what is the practical impact of there being a company incorporated in Scotland, given Scots courts and administrators jurisdiction over the insolvencies, when the companies’ business is mainly carried out abroad and when proceedings are also pending abroad.

Per Rubin v Eurofinance, Universalism” means the “administration of multinational insolvencies by a leading court applying a single bankruptcy law.”  The principle of modified universalism was stated by Lord Sumption in Singularis Holdings Ltd v Pricewaterhouse Coopers [2015] AC 1675 (PC) at para 15 as being that “the court has a common law power to assist foreign winding up proceedings so far as it properly can” (see also Lord Collins at paragraph 33 and Lord Clarke of Stone‑cum‑Ebony at paragraph 112).

Essentially Lord Tyre had to decide whether the Scottish administrators’ powers were only exercisable to the extent that their exercise was recognised as legally valid by the law of the relevant non-UK jurisdiction. He held (at 36) that the proceedings taking place in India were ancillary to the administration proceedings in Scotland. The powers of a validly appointed administrator to a Scottish company were therefore not limited by the Indian winding up.

As often of course this judgment is but one side of the coin. Indian courts are at liberty to disregard the Scots findings. Any purchasers of Hooley assets therefore will have a compromised title. One assumes this has an impact on price.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.1, Heading 5.5.

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Insolvency, universality and forum non conveniens. Manx Court in Interdevelco seeing ‘”the challenges of our time through the world’s eye”.

I have only just now bumped into it [the judgment, not the Island; bumping into the latter would require one to be sailing, a delightful proposition however not one for which it is the right season]: in  Interdevelco Limited v Waste2energy Group Holdings Plc (October 10 2012), the Isle of Man High Court declined to accept jurisdiction in insolvency proceedings against a company incorporated in the Isle of Man. Waste2Energy may be incorporated in the Isle of Man – it has however considerable commercial connections in the US, where other companies within the group are located, and is subject to insolvency proceedings there.

The Manx court had jurisdiction in principle, on the basis of the incorporation there. However Manx rules on civil procedure include a general forum non conveniens rule, and its insolvency laws express clear preference for universality. The combination of both with comity, led the high Court to relinquish jurisdiction in favour of the US.

Importantly, the EU’s Insolvency Regulation does not apply to the Isle of Man. Had it done so, this outcome would have been a lot more difficult, if not impossible to obtain: whence seeing ‘”the challenges of our time through the world’s eye” (the judgment quoting Justice Michael Kirby) would have been a lot more difficult.

Geert.

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