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While in previous weeks the winding up petition list has been adjourned for a minimum of three months, this week’s list was successfully conducted by Skype. This article discusses how the hearings worked.
In the order adjourning petitions due to be heard on 25th March 2020, ICC Judge Mullen recited that having considered the Protocol for Remote Hearings dated 20th March 2020 and the LCJ’s Review of Court Arrangements due to COVID-19 dated 23rd March 2020, the list “cannot presently be conducted remotely” and that “satisfactory arrangements to ensure safety cannot be put in place”. It therefore seems that the decision to adjourn was taken on solely practical and logistical grounds.
However, Chief ICC Judge Briggs conducted this week’s petition list by Skype. The petitions were split into smaller batches than usual and individual legal representatives were sent an email from the court clerk at about 4pm the day before inviting them to join the Skype hearing for their specific batch. As the petitions had been divided into smaller batches, if representatives had hearings in multiple batches, they would need to join one Skype invitation, exit and then join the next invitation. The court had sent letters to companies informing them that the petitions would be dealt with by Skype. Some solicitors acting for petitioners had also supplied the court with email addresses for companies where these were available. HMRC’s petitions were heard in an early batch and it is understood that those petitions were adjourned “by consent”.
The list ran exceptionally well. Participants were asked to ‘mute’ their microphones until their petition was called on as the court recording system did not cope particularly well if everyone was ‘live’ at the same time. Each petition was called on in order and Counsel would make themselves known by unmuting their microphone and switching on their webcam (where possible), instead of rising to their feet. Everyone wore suits – most barristers had decided not to don wigs and gowns. Orders were made in the ordinary way; if no-one attended, the petition was dismissed; if the Company did not appear, the usual compulsory order was made. Matters were still taken second time around if there was a discrepancy on the papers or something particularly complicated.
While the previous adjournment of the list may have given relief to companies who were the subject of petitions, had the adjournments continued, this clearly would have been unsatisfactory for creditors and for companies who challenged the petition debt for example. Whilst inevitably there will be practical issues with this arrangement and companies that have been wound up are bound to say that they were not aware of the petition going ahead, this shows that the high Court is being innovative and dynamic in trying to cope with the current circumstances.
If you would like to instruct us to conduct a winding up petition for you, please contact Adam Blades.
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