Time can be Extended for Affidavits in Winding Up

In winding up proceedings, the Companies (Winding-up) Rules 1972 provide for strict timelines for the filing of the affidavits. Rule 30 provides that the affidavit in opposition to the Petition shall be filed and served at least 7 days before the hearing of the Petition. In turn, the Petitioner’s affidavit in reply to the affidavit in opposition shall be filed and served within 3 days of the date of service of the affidavit in opposition. This makes the timeline very tight, especially for the Petitioner’s affidavit in reply.

Since the Court of Appeal decision in Crocuses & Daffodils (M) Sdn Bhd v Development & Commercial Bank Bhd [1997] 2 MLJ 756, there has been a line of authorities which has applied these timelines strictly. This is due to the use of the word “shall” in the Rule 30.

Court of Appeal decision in Kilo Asset

In the recent unreported grounds of judgment in Hiew Tai Hong v Kilo Asset Sdn Bhd, the Court of Appeal had to consider the issue as to whether there could be an extension of time to allow for the late filing of the various affidavits in a winding up Petition. In this case, the winding up petition involved a shareholder dispute where the petition relied largely on the just and equitable grounds. Extensive facts and the history between the shareholders were set out in the petition. This was not a case where the petition was based on an inability to pay debt and where a creditor was petitioning for winding up.

While the affidavits in opposition by the respondent were filed in time, the Petitioner filed his three affidavits in reply well past the 3-day timeline as set out in Rule 30. The Respondent then filed further affidavits in opposition.  Presumably because of an objection raised on the late filing of the affidavits in reply, the Petitioner filed an application for an extension of time. This application was based on Rule 193 which allows for enlargement or abridgment of time and Rule 194 which provides that no proceedings shall be invalidated by any formal defect or any irregularity unless the Court views that substantial injustice has been caused.

The High Court Judge dismissed the Petitioner’s extension of time application and therefore disregarded the Petitioner’s affidavits in reply. As the High Court Judge viewed that the Respondent’s affidavits in opposition was therefore left unanswered, the Petition was dismissed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the extension of time and ordered that the Petition be remitted back to the High Court for a full hearing. Firstly, the Court of Appeal was guided by the wordings of Rules 193 and 194 which would allow for an extension of time. These Rules were not referred to in the judgment of Crocuses & Daffodils. This is consistent with the current approach of the Courts to have regard to the justice of the case and not only to the technical non-compliance.

Secondly, the Court of Appeal also made a distinction between the present just and equitable winding up Petition and a Petition based on an inability to pay a debt (the latter being the Petition in Crocuses & Daffodils). In a just and equitable winding up Petition, involving a dispute among the shareholders and allegations against the directors, it is common for the facts to be hotly disputed and  where there is the possibility of cross-examination of deponents as well. Therefore, it would not be possible for the Court to adopt such a rigid approach to non-compliance.

Commentary

This decision is welcomed in taking a step away from a mechanical rigid approach for such affidavit timelines. Instead, the Court weighs up the justice of the case in deciding whether to allow for an extension of time or not. This is even more important in such a just and equitable winding up scenario where the facts are commonly disputed and where it is very common to have an extensive exchange of affidavits.

In practice, for a just and equitable winding up petition, the solicitors commonly agree among themselves for an extension of time for the filing and exchange of affidavits. It can be very difficult for the Petitioner to comply with the 3-day rule to file in the affidavit in reply. Rule 30 is also silent in allowing for the further filing of affidavits since no timeline is provided. This decision however appears to only apply in the context of such a Petition based on the just and equitable ground. A party seeking such an extension of time must still file in an application under Rules 193 and 194.

However, this decision does not go so far as to outright overrule the Crocuse & Daffodils approach in maintaining strict timelines for the inability to pay debt scenario. It can also be quite common to have a lengthy exchange of affidavits if the debt is heavily in dispute. Nonetheless, to prevent the risk of such a technical objection, all parties had best still comply strictly with the timelines set out in Rule 30.

 

 

The MAS Administration Act is Gazetted

I had earlier written about the Bill relating to Malaysia Airlines. As an update, the Bill has received Royal Assent on 30 December 2014 and Gazetted on 5 January 2015.

It is now known as the Malaysian Airline System Berhad (Administration) Act 2015. However, the Act will only come into operation on a date to be appointed by the Prime Minister by notification in the Gazette.

One particular significant change between the Act and the Bill has been the removal of certain powers of the Administrator. The Act has removed the provisions which originally allowed the Administrator to assume control over the property and business of a transition service provider and to carry on that business, if that transition service provider refused to provide such goods and services to the new MAB.

Such very wide powers have been dialed down such that if the transition service provider refuses, the new MAB and its subsidiary companies shall only have the right to recover any costs incurred or damage suffered.

Insolvency and Arbitration: Will a winding up petition be stayed in favour of arbitration?

I am just setting out my thoughts and where I will be planning to write a more extensive article on this area. I have always been fascinated on the interaction of the statutory process of winding up and the contractual bargain of arbitration. Will one process always necessarily trump the other?

There are now several cases which try to deal with whether there can be a form of a stay of the Court winding up proceedings in favour of arbitration. The winding up itself can arise from either a creditor petitioning on the grounds of insolvency or a shareholder petitioning on the just and equitable grounds. In the former scenario, the petition may be grounded on a debt arising from a contract containing an arbitration clause. In the latter, the shareholder’s complaints may be arising from a shareholders’ agreement with the other shareholders. I now just record down some cases in the scenario of a petition being presented by a creditor on the grounds of insolvency.

There is a recent English Court of Appeal decision in Salford Estates (No. 2) Limited v Altomart Limited [2014] EWCA 1575 Civ  which held that the mandatory stay provisions in the English Arbitration Act would not apply to stay winding up proceedings. Instead, the Companies Court would exercise its usual discretion in whether to stay or dismiss a winding up petition, for example, if there was a bona fide dispute of the debt on substantial grounds.

This is a similar approach taken in Hong Kong, where its Arbitration Ordinance closely follows the Model Law (and therefore, may be more persuasive in Malaysia). The case of Jade Union Investment Limited [2004] HKCFI 21 also similarly held that the mere existence of an arbitration clause does not mean that the mandatory stay provisions under the Arbitration Ordinance would apply. The Court would still apply the test as to whether there was a bona fide dispute of debt when hearing the petition. Another case of Re Sinom (Hong Kong) Ltd [2009] HKCFI 2201 similarly followed Jade Union when deciding whether to grant an injunction to restrain the presentation of a petition.

It will be interesting to see how such a situation would play out in Malaysia. I am not aware of any such case involving a stay of a winding up petition or an injunction to restrain presentation based on the Arbitration Act 2005 (“AA”). I know of one or two cases under the old Arbitration Act 1952 where a stay of winding up proceedings was sometimes granted and sometimes not.

If there is an arbitration clause in a contract and a statutory demand is made for payment under the contract, would the other contracting party be able to apply under section 11 of the AA for an injunction to restrain the presentation of the petition? What would the test for such an injunction be? Would it still be the Tan Kok Tong Court of Appeal test of a bona fide dispute of debt on substantial grounds? Or would the mere existence of an arbitration clause be sufficient? Or would an application for an injunction have to be grounded outside of the AA and the Court would exercise its inherent jurisdiction to grant a Fortuna injunction to restrain the presentation?

If the Petition was filed, would a stay of those Court proceedings be allowed under section 10 of the AA? The test for a stay under section 10 of the AA will not require the Court to decide on whether there is a bona fide dispute (that original provision has been taken out) and it is almost mandatory for a stay unless the arbitration clause can be questioned (e.g. the clause is null and void or inoperative).

I will try to deal with these questions in my more extensive article and after I have done more research.

The MAS Administration Bill: Malaysia Airlines to Soar Again?

This is my article originally published on LoyarBurok and then picked up by The Malay Mail.

malaysia-airlines-logo

As part of the massive restructuring plans for Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the Malaysian Airline System Berhad (Administration) Bill 2014 was tabled before Parliament on 26 November 2014.

As a general overview, I will just touch on some of the interesting aspects of this Bill.

  1. A new entity, the similar-sounding Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB), will be incorporated under the Companies Act 1965.
  2. The Bill proposes for its provisions to apply for 5 years or upon the successful listing of the shares of MAB on the official list of Bursa Malaysia, whichever is earlier.
  3. It appears that MAS and its subsidiaries listed in the Bill may be placed under administration. Malaysia does not have a formal administration regime like in the UK but this is the mechanism referred to in the Bill. It effectively allows MAS and its subsidiaries to be placed under the management and control of an Administrator, and the Administrator will, among others, have the powers to manage the business and operations, manage the assets, assume all the powers of management, and to make any arrangement or compromise.
  4. An Administrator need not hold a liquidator license but merely needs to be an approved company auditor (as under the Companies Act 1965) and one who is, in the opinion of the appointer, capable of performing the duties of an administrator.
  5. Upon the appointment of the Administrator over any of the listed companies, a very wide moratorium will apply. This will essentially prevent any form of legal proceedings to be taken against MAS and its subsidiaries. The moratorium will apply for a period of 12 months, unless the administration is terminated. The 12-month moratorium can be extended by the Minister.
  6. Undue preference would apply on the appointment of the Administrator and with the effective date being the date of the coming into force of the eventual Act. This could pose difficulties and uncertainty for the creditors  of the MAS companies, with a possible clawback period of 6 months before the coming into force of the Act.
  7. Interestingly, there is some scope to ‘cherry-pick’ the assets or liabilities to be transferred into the new MAB entity and to leave other assets or liabilities behind. This will be carried out through a vesting order under the eventual Act. The Administrator has the power to re-negotiate existing contracts of the MAS companies.
  8. Further, MAB has the sole discretion to offer employment to the employees of the MAS companies, on the terms and conditions as MAB may determine. It is made very clear that MAB is not deemed to be a successor employer in any way. This allows MAB to make a very clean break from the MAS employment contracts. There is also a specific provision to deal with MAB negotiating with trade unions and associations.
  9. There can be no Court Orders which stays, restrains or affects the powers of the Administrator or which compels the Administrator to do or perform any act.

The provisions of the Bill appear to be very specific in targeting some of the possible issues that MAS faces in its restructuring. As part of its restructuring, MAS may find that it needs to extricate itself from certain commercial contracts and employment contracts. The Bill will provide the Administrator with very wide powers and with a wide array of options in attempting to restructure MAS. Nonetheless, a balance must be struck in protecting the MAS creditors’ and employees’ interests.

Hopefully, the new entity of MAB will be able to take flight, like a phoenix soaring up again. Nonetheless, a balance must be struck in order to protect the interests of the MAS creditors and employees.

Unwinding a Winding-Up, Revisited

I had earlier written about the ability of a Court to unwind, or set aside, its winding up Order. For a long while, the weight of authority suggested that a Court could not set aside a winding up Order. The Companies Act 1965 was silent on the possibility of such a setting aside and there was only a provision for a stay of winding up under section 243. I had suggested in my earlier post that there appeared to be a narrow exception of allowing for such a setting aside, and this was implicit in the Megah Teknik decision.

There is now an unreported High Court decision applying Megah Teknik and where Datuk Wong Kian Kheong JC allowed a setting aside of a winding up Order. The grounds of judgment of Panaron Sdn Bhd v Univac Switchgear Sdn Bhd can be downloaded from the KL High Court website (and it contains the watermark). In Panaron, the High Court had unknowingly granted two winding up Orders (one in the Shah Alam High Court and the second in the Kuala Lumpur High Court). Proofs of Debt (POD) were filed in the second winding up and the Official Receiver (OR) then realised there was the earlier first winding up Order. The OR filed an application in KL for a stay of the second winding up Order (under section 243) and to transfer the 5 PODs to the first winding up.

The Court (correctly, I think) rejected the reliance of section 243 for a stay of the second winding up. That section could not properly apply to these sort of facts. The Court instead relied on the decision of Megah Teknik to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to set aside the second winding up Order.

In my earlier article, I was of the view that: “… the Court ought to have jurisdiction to set aside a winding up Order. Echoing the words of Mohd. Azmi FCJ in Badiaddin, circumstances may exist where there is a “real need to set aside the defective order to enable the Court to do justice.”

This Panaron decision at least shows one instance where there is such a defective winding up Order falling within the Badiaddin principle. That allows the exceptional ability to set aside a winding up Order. Here, the Kuala Lumpur High Court had no jurisdiction to make the second winding up Order. I would also add that the second winding up proceedings should have been void for breaching section 226(3) where all legal actions are automatically stayed upon a winding up Order being made and cannot be commenced without leave of Court. This decision of Panaron appears to lay down a wider principle that if the winding up Court had no jurisdiction to grant the winding up Order in the first place, then that winding up Order can be set aside.

In future, this Panaron decision could possibly be extended, for example, to facts where there was defective service of the 218 Notice or the winding up Petition. The respondent company might not have known about the winding up proceedings and the Order is made in default of its appearance. Before Megah Teknik and this decision, such a company would have to convince the Court to apply section 243 for a stay of the winding up Order. Perhaps, Panaron and Megah Teknik now opens the door for the argument that the winding up Court had no jurisdiction to grant the winding up Order in the first place and therefore the Order can be set aside.

I would like to also add that the new Companies Bill (to amend the Companies Act 1965) will not specifically address the issue of whether the Court can set aside a winding up Order. The Bill will tweak the present section 243 stay provision to allow for two things. The first is that the stay of a winding up will take on a more natural meaning in that the stay is for a limited time only. Presumably, this is to allow for a stay of a winding up pending appeal for instance or for a short stay to give time for the company to settle the debts. There will be a new termination provision which allows for the winding up to be terminated (i.e. permanently). This suggests that the termination will also be prospective and takes effect from the date of the termination. It does not have the same effect of a setting aside. Therefore, the Court’s exercise of an inherent jurisdiction to set aside a winding up Order will still play a significant role in the future.

Speaking at the Regional Insolvency Conference 2014 in Singapore

On 25 August 2014, I will be speaking at the Regional Insolvency Conference 2014 organised by the Law Society of Singapore. I will be a speaker at the first Plenary Session focusing on a regional update and trends in insolvency in India, Malaysia and Vietnam. I will be speaking on the Malaysian perspective.

insolvency

The main areas I will briefly touch on will be on an introduction to Malaysia’s insolvency laws, in particular, on any cross-border insolvency provisions. And then I will introduce the upcoming changes to insolvency with the new Companies Bill. Malaysia will be introducing the Corporate Voluntary Arrangement (borrowing it from the UK) and judicial management (borrowing it from Singapore).

Substituting two Petitioners into a Winding Up Petition

The High Court in Allied Empire Plantations Sdn Bhd v Chip Lam Seng Berhad [2014] 6 CLJ 81 (“Allied Empire”) touched on some of the principles on the substitution of a Petitioner in a winding up Petition and where two parties were allowed to be substituted in as co-Petitioners.

The law governing the substitution of a party as Petitioner in a winding up Petition is contained in rule 33 of the Companies (Winding-up) Rules 1972 (“Rules”). Rule 33 provides that:

“… the Court may upon such terms as it thinks just substitute as petitioner any person who, in the opinion of the Court, would have a right to present the petition and who is desirous of proceeding with the petition.”

The case of Allied Empire involved two parties applying to be substituted as a petitioner. The first was Jadeline and the second was AmBank.

Jadeline

After the presentation of the Petition in August 2012, Jadeline had entered into an assignment with the Petitioner for the absolute assignment of the chose in action to claim the underlying debt giving rise to the Petition. The question of law that then arose was whether Jadeline could be deemed to be a creditor at the time of the presentation of the petition (and therefore “would have a right to present the petition) or whether Jadeline’s status as the creditor only crystallised after the entering of the assignment. In essence, the Court found that with the debt having been absolutely assigned to Jadeline by the Petitioner, the effect under the law is that all rights to present the Petition would also now be with Jadeline.

Procedurally though, here are cases that have found that not only must the intended substituting party be a creditor, that party must have also had issued the statutory notice (under section 218(2)(a) of the Companies Act 1965) (“218 Notice”) in order to fall within the definition of “would have a right to present the petition” (see for example, the High Court decision of Teoh Vin Sen v True Creation Sdn Bhd [2008] 4 CLJ 393). Presumably, the High Court in Allied Empire would have considered that the effect of the absolute assignment was that the complete chose in action of presenting the Petition had been absolutely assigned by the Petitioner over to Jadeline. Therefore, even the procedural issuance of the statutory notice would have been deemed to have been “assigned” to Jadeline.

AmBank

Where AmBank was applying for it to be substituted as a petitioner as well, AmBank had issued its statutory notice in December 2012 and applied for the substitution in September 2013. While AmBank had issued its 218 Notice, Jadeline had raised the objection that AmBank had not issued the 218 Notice prior to August 2012 (i.e. the time of the presentation of the Petition). Therefore, in short, AmBank did not fall within the definition of “would have a right to present the petition.” The Judge made short shrift of this argument by finding that the debt owing to AmBank was not seriously disputed. Section 218(2)(c) would also allow for a presumption of insolvency and there i snothing to prevent a creditor from presenting a petition to wind up a debtor without relying on the presumption in the statutory notice if the evidence is so clear that the debtor is in any event insolvent.

Substitution of Both Parties as Co-Petitioners

The Court then had to consider whether to allow only one of the parties to be substituted in as a Petitioner. Jadeline had made its application first while AmBank had the larger debt. The Court ordered that both parties be made Petitioners while AmBank was allowed to be the first Petitioner and which had the responsibility to ensure the necessary advertisement, gazetting and other getting up were complied with (but with costs to be born equally by the two Petitioners).

While it is true that there is nothing to prevent there being two or more Petitioners, there appears to be a general rule that Plaintiffs (or in this case, the two Petitioners) must be represented by the same set of solicitors. Allowing AmBank and Jadeline to be substituted in as Petitioners and yet, being represented by two different solicitors, may not have been possible.

The rationale of having plaintiffs, claimants or petitioners  to have a common set of solicitors appears to be in order to ensure consistency in the prosecution of a claim. The rule can be seen as far back as in Wedderburn v Wedderburn (1853) 17 Beav 158, where Sir John Romilly M.R. held that:

“Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins may, in concurrence with the other four co-plaintiffs, remove their solicitor, and the other four may allow him to conduct the proceedings for all. But if the plaintiffs do not all concur, Mr. Hawkins cannot take a course of proceeding different and apart from the other plaintiffs, for the consequence would be, that their proceedings might be totally inconsistent. When persons undertake the prosecution of a suit, they must make up their minds whether they will become co-plaintiffs; for if they do, they must act together. I cannot allow one of several plaintiffs to act separately from and inconsistently with the others.”

In the English Court of Appeal case of Lewis And Another v Daily Telegraph Ltd. (No. 2) [1964] 2 QB 601, it was held that:

“In my view, it was not regular, and not in accordance with the proper practice, that two firms of solicitors should be placed on the record as representing the plaintiff Lewis and the plaintiff company separately.”

Similarly, in the Supreme Court of Victoria decision of Goold and Porter Proprietary Limited v Housing Commission [1974] VR 102, it was held that:

“There seems to be a long line of authority to the effect that plaintiffs, where there is more than one plaintiff in an action, must appear by the same counsel. The cases seem very largely to be equity cases but the matter is stated categorically in the authorities Wedderburn v Wedderburn (1853) 17 Beav 158; Davey v Watt (1902) 28 VLR 24; Lewis v Daily Telegraph [1964] 2 QB 622 [*4]; [1964] 1 All ER 705; Odgers on Pleading and Practice, 18th ed., p. 16; Halsbury, 3rd ed., vol. 3, p. 72; Newton v Ricketts (1848) 2 Phil 624; Ballard v White (1843) 2 Hare 158 at p. 159; Swift v Glazebrook (1842) 13 Sim 185; Re Norwoods Patents (1895) 11 RPC 214, at p. 221; Re Wright, [1895] 2 Ch 747 at p. 748) to which I have been referred, including one in this Court which was decided by Holroyd, J, Davey v Watt (1902) 28 VLR 24; 8 ALR 90.

In Lewis v Daily Telegraph (No. 2) [1964] 2 QB 601 at p. 623, [1964] 1 All ER 705, there is a dictum of Russell, LJ, which does indicate his Lordship’s view that where there are a number of plaintiffs in an action, whether that action is a consolidated action or not, there is a discretion to allow separate representation to the plaintiffs. But that appears, on a review of the authorities by counsel, to be the only reference to the possibility in an action of this kind which is not a consolidated action, of plaintiffs appearing by separate counsel. The condition of the plaintiffs so doing is stated to be to avoid injustice, and his Lordship indicates that it must be rare.

In the absence of any other authority suggesting that there is a discretion, I am disposed to the view that there is no discretion in the case of an action which is not a consolidated action, and that, therefore, I should refuse the application which has been made by Mr. Marks and by Mr. Eames, for the plaintiffs, in this action, or some of them, to appear by separate counsel. I say ‘or some of them’ because some of the plaintiffs are not here at this moment, either in person or by solicitor or counsel, so I am told. However that may be, and assuming that I have a discretion, I am of the opinion that no injustice would be done to the plaintiffs by requiring them all to appear by the same counsel. I am satisfied that the only conflict that might arise between them is not related in any way to the relief sought in the action; it might well be that different considerations would actuate different plaintiffs in certain eventualities but those eventualities, which I do not more particularly refer to, seem to me to have nothing to do with the actual conduct of the action as it appears on the pleadings. And I think that the interests of the plaintiffs to the extent that they may differ, could be well looked after by solicitors or solicitors and counsel who are not appearing in the action, and they do not have anything to do with the conduct of the action.”

Therefore, allowing both AmBank and Jadeline to be co-Petitioners may not have been possible since both parties would have wanted their own solicitors. The Court would then have had to make the difficult choice on who to select from the two competing parties. I am not aware of what are the guiding principles on how to select between these two competing parties.