Financially Distressed Companies, Restructuring and Creditors’ Interests: What is a Director to Do?

By Andrew Keay (University of Leeds)

Out of court restructuring is a popular and, according to many, optimal way of resolving the circumstances of insolvent companies in the UK, and probably more so since the advent in the UK of the Enterprises Act 2002. One concern that some commentators have raised is the fact that the opportunities to engage in such restructuring are likely to be reduced given the way that the courts have approached claims that directors who have initiated restructuring strategies are liable for breach of duty in failing to take into account the interests of company creditors when their company is insolvent or near to it (as applied by section 172(3) of the Companies Act 2006 in the UK). Allied to this is the concern that if directors are not granted freedom to use their discretion in entering into a restructuring process companies might be placed into administration or liquidation when they have some prospect of continuing to trade and to do so profitably, because directors may choose to be risk averse in placing a company into administration or liquidation rather than take the risk of being held liable for breach of the duty if they attempt restructuring. This paper examines whether the aforementioned concerns are realistic, given the law, and, if they are, what directors should be doing to ensure that they do not breach the obligation in relation to creditors. These are important issues as little consideration has been given in the UK to the issue of liability of directors for breach of duty in the wake of a restructuring. The issues are considered in light of section 172(3) of the Companies Act 2006 which makes the director’s duty to promote the success of the company for the benefit of the shareholders (as under section 172(1) and providing for what is known as ‘enlightened shareholder value’) subject to any rule of law that requires directors to consider the interests of creditors. It is a rule of law in the UK (and in many Commonwealth countries and Ireland) that when their company is insolvent or in dire financial distress directors must take into account the interests of creditors.

The paper finds that while directors might be subject to liability in entering into restructuring attempts, this is only going to occur in limited cases and so there should not be particular concern over liability. This is because first of all courts will not hold directors liable if they acted in good faith and took into account the interests of creditors, and regarded these interests as paramount in their considerations. Even if the directors failed to take into account the interests of creditors or failed to make them paramount, they will not be liable where the court finds that the honest and intelligent director, taking into account creditors’ interests, would have entered into the restructuring in any event on the basis that it would benefit creditors. Obviously if directors restructure in such a way as to benefit themselves or specific creditors, or they have improper motives, then liability is more likely to ensue. But, where the directors have acted reasonably then they should be safe from challenge.

The full article is available here.

The Impact of Brexit on Debt Restructuring and Insolvency Practice

By Manuel Penades and Michael Schillig (King’s College London – The Dickson Poon School of Law).

With its flexible restructuring framework and experienced courts, England has become the foremost restructuring destination in Europe. A restructuring typically combines a scheme of arrangement with a pre-pack administration. Under the former, lenders exchange their debt for equity or new debt in a new corporate holding structure; the latter facilitates the transfer of the business to this new holding structure. The effectiveness of these restructuring measures in all EU Member States is currently guaranteed by the combined effect of the European Insolvency Regulation (EIR), the Judgments Regulation (Brussels Ibis), and the Regulation on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I).

This regime currently ensures the availability of English-law pre-pack administration and other insolvency procedures to many EU debtors. The EIR ties exclusive jurisdiction and applicable insolvency law to the debtor’s Centre of Main Interests (COMI). Insolvency measures issued by the opening court are automatically recognised and enforced throughout the EU. Subject to a COMI transfer to England, any debtor can benefit from English insolvency and restructuring mechanisms (including pre-pack administration) and their automatic EU-wide effect.

Post-Brexit, the EIR will cease to apply in the UK and insolvencies opened therein will lose their automatic EU effect. English domestic law alone will be insufficient to achieve this result. Only a new international instrument, probably in the form of a convention, could maintain the effectiveness of the current practice.

By contrast, schemes of arrangement are not covered by the EIR and their enforceability across the EU is currently ensured by Brussels Ibis and/or Rome I. The UK will be able to retain the Rome I regime through a unilateral instrument, but not the Brussels Ibis, which requires reciprocity, like the EIR.

Given that schemes and insolvency procedures are usually combined, absent new international instruments, Brexit is likely to result in significant uncertainty and disruption for European restructuring practice.

The article is available here.