Page:EB1911 - Volume 03.djvu/347

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330
BANKRUPTCY


and accelerating the procedure. The chief of these modifications are as follows, viz. the Board of Trade acts as committee of inspection; there is no advertisement of the proceedings in a local paper; in legal proceedings all questions of law and fact are determined by the court without a jury; adjudication may be made on a report by the official receiver before the first meeting of creditors where no composition or scheme is proposed; meetings of creditors may be held in the town where the court sits or the official receiver's office is situated; notice to creditors of meetings other than the first meeting, or of application by a debtor for his discharge, are dispensed with in the case of creditors for amounts not exceeding £2. Costs, other than a solicitor's charges, may be paid without taxation; and the time for declaring the first dividend is extended to six months, but the whole estate must be realized and distributed within this period if practicable. No modification, however, is permitted in the procedure relating to the public examination and discharge of the bankrupt. Notwithstanding that an order has been made for summary administration, the creditors may at any time by a resolution passed by a majority in number and three-fourths in value of those voting at the meeting, appoint a trustee in place of the official receiver, in which case the summary order ceases to be operative.

Scottish Bankruptcy Legislation.

In Scotland, as in England, the law of bankruptcy arose as a remedy against the frauds of insolvent debtors. It was declared by an act of the Scottish parliament (1621, c. 18) that no debtor after insolvency should fraudulently diminish the fund belonging to his creditors, and if a deed of assignment was gratuitously executed after the contracting of debt in favour of a near relation or a confidential friend, fraudulent dealing was to be presumed. The act 1696, c. 5, settled the definition of a notour or notorious bankrupt, a question which had previously engaged the attention of the judges of the court of session. The statute defines "a notour bankrupt" to be any debtor who, being under diligence by horning or caption, at the instance of his creditors, shall be either imprisoned, or retire to the abbey or any other privileged place, or flee or abscond for his personal security, or defend his person by force, and who shall afterwards be found, by sentence of the lords of session, to be insolvent. Bankruptcy as thus defined was, it is said, intended to afford a remedy against fraudulent preference by debtors, and not as the ground-work of a general process of distribution, although by later statutes it became a necessary requisite of every such process. The exceptions recognized in the act of 1696, of persons absent from Scotland and therefore not liable to imprisonment, or of persons exempted therefrom by special privileges, were removed by later legislation. The old English distinction between traders and non-traders, it will be observed, is not recognized in Scottish law. The statute made null and void all voluntary dispositions, assignations and other deeds made after or within sixty days before bankruptcy.

In 1856 was passed the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act, by which the law of bankruptcy in Scotland is mainly regulated. By this act, notour (i.e. legally declared) bankruptcy was constituted:—

1. By sequestration (or adjudication in England and Ireland); and

2. By insolvency concurring either—(a) with a duly executed charge for payment or (b) with sale of effects belonging to the debtor under a poinding or under a sequestration for rent, or making application for the benefit of cessio bonorum.

Notour bankruptcy continues, in cases of sequestration, until the debtor has obtained his discharge and in other cases until insolvency ceases. Sequestration may be awarded of the estate of any person in the following cases:—

1. Living debtor subject to jurisdiction of Scottish courts—(a) on his own petition with concurrence of qualified creditors, or (b) on petition of qualified creditors, provided he be a notour bankrupt, and have had a dwelling-house or place of business in Scotland within the previous year.

2. In the case of a deceased debtor, subject at his death to the jurisdiction of the court—(a) on the petition of his mandatory; or (b) on the petition of qualified creditors (§ 13).

Sequestration may be awarded either by the court of session or by the sheriff. A sequestration may be recalled by a majority in number and four-fifths in value of the creditors, who may prefer to wind up the estate by private arrangement. If the sequestration proceeds, the creditors hold a meeting, and by a majority in value elect a trustee to administer the estate, and three commissioners (being creditors or their mandatories) to assist and control the administration and declare the dividends. The bankrupt (under pain of imprisonment) must give all the information in his power regarding his estate and he must be publicly examined on oath before the sheriff; and "conjunct and confident persons" may likewise be examined. The bankrupt may be discharged either by composition or without composition. In the latter case (1) by petition with concurrence of all the creditors, or (2) after six months with concurrence of a majority and four-fifths in value of the creditors, or (3) after eighteen months with concurrence of a bare majority in number and value, or (4) after two years without concurrence. In the last case the judge may refuse the application if he thinks the bankrupt has fraudulently concealed his effects or wilfully failed to comply with the law. This act was amended by the Bankruptcy and Real Securities Act 1857, which deals with the cost of competition for trusteeships; the Bankruptcy Amendment (Scotland) Act 1860, which enables the court to recall a sequestration where it is more convenient that the estate should be wound up in England or Ireland; and the Bankruptcy Amendment Act (Scotland) 1875, which makes the wages of clerks, shopmen and servants preferential claims for a period not exceeding four months and an amount not exceeding £50, while the claims of workmen are placed on a similar footing for a period not exceeding two months. Some important changes were subsequently introduced, one of the principal being that effected by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1880, which abolished imprisonment for debt, but which, like its English prototype (the Debtors Act 1869), contains a series of important provisions for the punishment of fraudulent bankrupts. Under these provisions the laws of the two countries on that subject are practically assimilated, although some minor differences still survive. One of the most important of these differences is, that while the Scottish act makes the failure, within the three years prior to the sequestration, to keep "such books and accounts as, according to the usual course of any trade or business in which he (the debtor) may have been engaged, are necessary to exhibit or explain his transactions" a criminal offence, the English act contains no provision of an analogous character; the non-keeping of such books being treated as a fact to be taken into account in dealing with the debtor's application for his discharge but not coming within the scope of the criminal law. On the other hand, there are a few minor trading irregularities dealt with in the English act which are not specifically included in that of Scotland. Another important distinction is that under the Scottish act the same offences may be treated differently, according as they are brought for trial before the court of justiciary or a sheriff and jury, in which case the maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment; or before a sheriff without a jury, in which case the penalty is limited to imprisonment for a period not exceeding sixty days. This distinction admits of a useful elasticity in the administration of the law, having regard to the comparative importance of the case, which is hardly possible under the English act.

Another most important modification of the law is effected by the Debtors Act 1880, combined with the Bankruptcy and Cessio Act 1881, and the Act of Sederunt anent Cessios of the 22nd of December 1882. Under the law existing prior to these enactments, the process of cessio bonorum operated chiefly as a means for obtaining release from imprisonment for debt on a formal surrender by a debtor of all his goods and estate. But under this process the debtor was not entitled to a discharge, and his future-acquired property was still subject to diligence at the instance of unsatisfied creditors. By abolishing imprisonment for debt (except in regard to crown debts and public rates and assessments), the legislature also practically abolished this use of the process of cessio, and the process itself would probably have become obsolete, but for certain changes effected by the act of 1881, which have given it a different and more extended scope. Among these changes may be noted (1)