The Hong Kong Court of Appeal has suggested that a previous Court decision may have overstepped the mark by suggesting that an arbitration clause in a client agreement should generally take precedence over a creditor’s right to present a winding-up petition.

In But Ka Chon v Interactive Brokers LLC [2019] HKCA 873 (an otherwise fairly routine financial product misrepresentation case), Vice President of the Court of Appeal Madam Justice Kwan made obiter comments implying that the test previously set out by Harris J last year in Lasmos Limited v Southwest Pacific Bauxite (HK) Limited [2018] HKCFI 426, which followed recent English authority, appeared to be at odds with classical Hong Kong and Commonwealth authority whereby a winding-up petition may only be dismissed by establishing a bona fide defence on substantial grounds to the claim for the underlying debt.
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On 19 September 2019, Norris J handed down judgment in the challenge brought by six landlords against the Debenhams Retail Limited (Debenhams) company voluntary arrangement (CVA) which was approved by 94.71% of Debenham’s unsecured creditors on 9 May 2019. The challenge been watched with significant interest, particularly by the landlord community, which has for some time expressed increasing concerns regarding the use of CVAs as a mechanism to commute leasehold liabilities while other unsecured creditors’ rights remain unaffected. While CVAs have been the subject of legal challenges previously, the Debenhams challenge is the first time certain key elements of CVAs in play in the market have been tested before the court.  Norris J’s decision provide welcome clarification on a number of key issues concerning the treatment of leases in retail CVAs.

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When a company is placed in business rescue, employee claims continue to arise in places like the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (the CCMA) and the Labour Court. And, there are cases where employees who have not received payment from their employer approach the Labour Court. The question that arises is how these claims are to be addressed.


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On February 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split under the Bankruptcy Code and determined that where funds passed through financial institutions acting as payment conduits, where the ultimate transfer sought to be avoided was not the type of transaction protected by the safe harbor provisions of the Bankruptcy Code, the safe harbor provisions of Bankruptcy Code Section 546(e), shielding transfers through financial institutions from avoidance actions by bankruptcy trustees, was inapplicable.

The Supreme Court found that prior circuit decisions applying the safe harbor simply because financial institutions were intermediaries in the transfer is not consistent with the language or intent of the safe harbor provisions.
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It’s an open secret that the commendable goals envisaged by the legislature with the introduction of the business rescue proceedings in Chapter 6 of our Companies Act are being hampered as a result of poorly drafted statutory provisions that govern the business rescue process.  Section 141(2)(a)(ii) is however not one of these vague provisions. In Western Crown Properties 61 (Pty) Ltd vs Able Walling Solutions (Pty) Ltd & Others/ 8073/16, the Western Cape High Court considered this provision and whether a business rescue practitioner can merely file a notice for the termination of the business rescue proceedings without applying to court to liquidate the company. 
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The English High Court has decided that collapsed retailer British Home Stores cannot challenge its own company voluntary arrangement as an unenforceable contractual penalty and must repay rental discounts to its landlords (Anthony John Wright and Geoffrey Paul Rowley as joint liquidators of SHB Realisations Limited (formerly BHS Limited) (in liquidation) v The Prudential Assurance Company Limited [2018], decision handed down on 6 March 2018)

The case, in which Hogan Lovells represented the successful landlord, provides important guidance on the operation of company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), particularly after termination, and the payment of rent as an expense of a company’s administration in priority to other debts.
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In January 2018 the English High Court considered whether it had jurisdiction under the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006 (CBIR) to extend a temporary stay on the commencement of enforcement action in respect of English law debt obligations owed by a foreign debtor so that in effect the stay became permanent, or whether such a permanent stay would breach the long established rule in Gibbs[1](which provides that the discharge of an English law governed debt under the insolvency laws of a foreign jurisdiction outside of England and Wales is not a valid discharge of such debt).  Ultimately, the court found that ordering a permanent stay would substantively affect the creditors’ rights and amount to a discharge of the English debts, in breach of the rule in Gibbs, and that the CBIR could not be used to modify that rule.

[1] Antony Gibbs & Sons v La Societe Industrielle et Commerciale des Mataux (1890) 25 QBD 399
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On 8 February 2018, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance (the “Hong Kong Court“) ruled in Re Supreme Tycoon Limited [2018] HKCFI 277 that the common law power to recognise and assist foreign insolvency proceedings extends to voluntary liquidations. This is the first authority on this issue in Hong Kong.
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In the recent case of Kevin Taylor v Van Dutch Marine Holding Ltd and others, the UK High Court decided that the exercise of existing rights by a secured creditor should not be regarded as a disposal by a defendant, and as a result, enforcement by a secured creditor is not an infringement of a freezing order. The High Court also clarified that it is not necessary for a secured creditor to bring an application for variation of the freezing order.

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Private equity firms routinely appoint directors to boards of their privately held portfolio companies and other investment vehicles, some of which will eventually face financial distress. Often, a person appointed to a board by a private equity firm has a relationship with the firm (e.g., they work there or are a trusted friend)