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Today’s list of winding up petitions has been adjourned for a minimum of three months with petitions being re-listed for June, July and August. ICC Judge Mullen recited in his order 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, he has concluded that the list “cannot presently be conducted remotely” and that “satisfactory arrangements to ensure safety cannot be put in place”.
The order gives permission for any party seeking dismissal of a petition to apply on notice before the date of the adjourned hearing and applications are to be heard remotely by skype in a “general dismissal list”. Finally, the order specifically states that there is nothing to preclude a petitioner from withdrawing a petition pursuant to r. 7.13 where there has been no notice in accord with r. 7.10, no notice in support or opposition and the company consents.
This decision to adjourn appears to have been taken on solely practical and logistical grounds. While the government has announced various support packages for businesses, it is yet to go as far as the German government in suspending insolvency petitions and applications.
The adjournment may give relief to some struggling companies which need to time organise themselves in these testing circumstances. However, it creates difficulties too. For example, companies that were due to have the petition against them heard today, and dismissed on account of having paid the debt, will now have to make an application and be heard in what is likely to be upwards of two week’s time. In the meantime, having found the money to pay the debt, they are unable to trade without a validation order in place. It is hoped that validation applications will be heard on an urgent basis but with everyone, including companies, the courts, insolvency practitioners and lawyers feeling their way through this new way of working, there are almost inevitably going to be delays.
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