This is the next in the series of blogs for the Directors Friend blog.
This is a discussion about a recent case decided in the Chancery Division of the High Court – (1) Nicholas William Nicholson and (2) Stratford Edward Hamilton (As Joint Liquidators of Main Realisations Limited) and (1) Thomas Geoffrey Fielding and others a judgment by Deputy Registrar Prentis (it would appear unreported).
In summary, prior to Mainland Car Deliveries Limited (In Liquidation) (the ‘Company’) being placed into Administration is was alleged by the subsequently appointed joint Liquidators of the Company that the three directors of the Company had caused the Company to wrongfully trade and that they were liable to personally contribute over £2.12M to the assets of the Company. The Deputy Registrar appeared to be less than impressed with the Liquidators evidence and dismissed the application.
Section 214 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (the ‘Act’)
In the Directors Friend earlier blog this section of the Act was explained.
In summary, the issues that the Court considers includes:
- Whether the directors of the Company should have known or ought to have concluded that from a date that there was no reasonable prospect that the Company would avoid entering into insolvent liquidation (i.e. not that the Company is insolvent);
- The focus is on the individual director’s conduct;
- The maximum loss that the Court can take into account is the loss to the Company (not to creditors) as a result of the liquidation being delayed (net deficiency);
- How far there is a sufficient connection between the increase in net deficiency and the factors which made the directors decision that the Company should trade on wrongful; then
- What would be a fair order as between the various Respondents.
The Deputy Registrar went through the detail of the evidence in some detail to consider whether or not there was any wrongful trading (paragraphs 54 to 96 of the judgment).
At paragraph 97 the Deputy Registrar found:
‘The hallmark of the Company’s correspondence with HMRC is that of ongoing detailed consideration of its position, entirely consistent with the evidence of Mr Fielding and Mr Tait that the directors were constantly monitoring and discussing the situation. They were doing so backed by exemplary management accounts prepared by Mr Tait, and they were taking tough decisions: laying off staff, laying up trucks.
98. All this was against a background of an uncertain financial world, oscillating fuel prices, and an industry entering a significant downturn of uncertain duration. The evidence is that the directors were doing their best to take account of those, and they cannot be criticised for not predicting their full effect.’
At paragraph 105 the Deputy Registrar was mindful of the fact that HMRC (a large creditor) ‘… was willing even in early 2009, after multiple failures of the Company to meet its promises, to enter into a further time to pay agreement.’
The Deputy Registrar’s observations
The Deputy Registrar did not appear impressed that a deficiency account had not been prepared by the joint Liquidators (per paragraph 112) nor was an explanation provided as to why not.
In addition, he observed at paragraph 112:
‘I am left without any real clue as to what losses would have been incurred anyway consequent on an earlier liquidation.’
The Deputy Registrar was also less than impressed (at paragraph 113):
‘Next, it seems to me that to rely now without qualification on the statement of affairs in the administration, prepared more than 7 years ago, is utterly inappropriate. Quantum is not an assessment of a notional figure. It is in this context assessment of the loss to the Company caused by ongoing trading.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly the application was dismissed.
The Directors Friend comments
This is another application for wrongful trading that has failed due to a lack of the required evidence being put forward by the Liquidators. The Court did not appear impressed in this case with that lack.
The Directors Friend says that from the perspective of the directors it would appear fortunate that there was enough contemporaneous evidence in the Company’s correspondence with HMRC to explain the position. The directors were constantly monitoring and discussing the situation backed up by the exemplary management accounts prepared by one of the directors. The situation that the Company found itself in was not found to be the fault of the directors.
Finally, there is no reference to possible consequent director disqualification for participation in wrongful trading, however, with this type of claim there is always a risk of being subject to director disqualification as well. Please see the Directors Friend earlier blog for more details.
What to do now
If you are faced with:
- worrying insolvency issues with your company;
- a claim against you for wrongful trading or perhaps misfeasance; and / or
- director disqualification
then please talk to me today on +44 (0)1992 558411. That is in order to protect your position without delay. The earlier that you speak with me the more that I can likely help.
Until the next time…
THE DIRECTORS FRIEND