A History of Insolvency Law


Early insolvency law was dominated by punitive approaches and it was not until the early eighteenth century that notions of rehabilitation gained force. Insolvency was seen as an offence little less criminal than a felony and was punishable by detention in person at the creditor’s pleasure in debtors prisons. The prevalent view was that it was not justifiable for any person other than a trader to ‘encumber himself with debts of any considerable value’

Prior to this revolution, common law offered no collective procedure for administering an insolvent’s estate. A creditor could seize either the body of a debtor or his effects – but not both. Creditors, moreover, had to act individually, there being no machinery for sharing expenses.


The idea that creditors might act collectively was recognised in 1542 with the enactment of the first English Bankruptcy Act which dealt with absconding debtors and empowered any aggrieved party to seize the debtor’s property, sell it and distribute the proceeds among other creditors ‘according to the quantity of their debts.

During the 19th century, attitudes towards trade credit and risk of default changed. This was due to the rise of joint stock companies and the resulting de-personalisation of business and credit.

The key statute was the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 which established the company as a distinct legal entity, although it retained unlimited liability for the shareholders. the modern limited liability company emerged in 1855, to be followed seven years later by the first modern company law statute containing detailed winding-up provisions.

The House of Lords in Salomon’s case confirmed that a duly formed company was a separate legal person from its members and that consequently even a one-man company’s debts were self contained and distinct. However, every insolvent business went into liquidation or receivership automatically. It was the kiss of death for them and the creator of unemployment.

Plunging into Bankruptcy - Financial Speedometer

An insolvency system was later created to administer the range of new procedures be introduced as alternatives to outright bankruptcy or winding up, which would deal with individual cases on their merits. These involved recommendations that private insolvency practitioners should be professionally regulated to ensure adequate standards of competence and integrity; that creditors be given a greater voice in the choice of the liquidator; and that new penalties and constraints be placed on errant directors. This represented a movement towards stricter control of errant directors but also in favour of an increasing emphasis on rehabilitation of the company.

The rationale behind the culture of business rescues was expressed by Sir Kenneth Cork as follows: “When a business becomes insolvent it provides an occasion for a change of ownership from incompetent hands to people who not only have the wherewithal but also hopefully the competence, the imagination and the energy to save the business”.

The current attitude towards insolvency is to carry out much more work on corporate problems before any insolvency procedure is entered into. This places a new emphasis on managing insolvency risks proactively rather than after troubles have become crises.

In this series, we will explore the life cycle of insolvency from financial distress and default, to corporate failure and business rescue. We will also investigate different approaches to managing insolvency, along with their strengths and weaknesses.


Corporate insolvency law is not merely concerned with the death and burial of companies. Important issues are whether corporate difficulties should be treated as terminal and whether it is feasible to mount rescue operations.


Insolvency refers to the regulated legal process that ensues upon the bankruptcy of a company. Insolvency procedure registers and prioritizes claims, freezes other legal actions, limits company to business as usual, and tries to establish value from assets.

In a society that facilitates the use of credit by companies, there is a degree of risk that company creditors will suffer because the firm has become unable to pay its debts on the due date.

If a number of creditors were owed money and all pursued the rights and remedies available to them (for example, contractual rights; rights to enforce security interests; rights to set off the debt against other obligations; proceedings for delivery, foreclosure or sale), a chaotic race to protect interests would take place and this might produce inefficiencies and unfairness. This is what insolvency laws seek to prevent.

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The end target of any restructuring or insolvency process is to return a company to financial health. Predominantly by lowering and decreasing its obligations. If the situation can’t be rectified, insolvency law will work to ensure a fair allocation of liquidated assets.

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There are two definitions of Insolvency, depending on the test applied by the court. Briggs J in Re Cheyne Finance Plc contrasted “a momentary inability to pay as a result of temporary liquidity soon to be remedied” with “an endemic shortage of working capital” which renders “a company insolvent, even though it may be able to pay its debts for the next few days, weeks or months before an inevitable failure.”

  • A company is balance sheet insolvent where the company’s liabilities exceed its assets.

  • A company is cash flow insolvent when the company is unable to pay its mature liabilities as they fall due. In this situation, the company may be balance sheet solvent and is experiencing temporary cash flow/liquidity problems.

Where a company is cashflow insolvent it may undergo restructuring through schemes of arrangement, administration, or receivership and be managed until it returns to profitability.

If the company cannot be returned to profitability, it may be wound up and its assets sold to satisfy creditors claims, after which the company is then liquidated.

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Many companies would find themselves without access to funding or credit and may enter unnecessarily into insolvency proceedings if an arbitrary approach was taken to the balance sheet test. For this reason the cash flow test is used to identify companies that merely require a cash injection and those that need to be totally restructured.

In BNY Corporate Trustee Services Ltd v Eurosail-UK 2007-3BL Plc, The court held that the “balance sheet” test of insolvency may only apply where a company has reached a point of no return (where it is clear that the business will not be able to meet its future or contingent liabilities).  However, if the cash flow test were the only relevant test for insolvency, then current and short-term creditors would in effect be paid at the expense of creditors to whom liabilities were incurred after the company had reached the point of no return because of an incurable deficiency in its assets.

An insolvency usually begins with an event of default (“EoD”) or inability to meet an agreed business obligation. This obligation may be a contractual debt, a bill payment or a business loan.

A period is sometimes allowed to repair the default (Cure Period); usually between 1 week to 3 months. If the Cure Period lapses or there isn’t one to begin with, the creditor has a right to declare EoD and pursue legal action against the company for the immediate payment of all outstanding obligations.

Final liquidations are a last resort, sometimes the best of both worlds can be achieved by a court approved private work out as creditors generally prefer private negotiation to judicial intervention.

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Judicial proceedings are a fall back remedy, used when it is necessary to stay hold out creditors, bind dissentients, improve title, enhance foreign recognition, monitor gross unfairness and punish fraud.

When a corporate failure occurs, this may have a dramatic impact on the lives, interests and employment prospects of a number of parties. It is important to understand the nature of these potential effects. This would help us better manage the negative effects of corporate failure.


Investing in Renovating and Selling homes


Balogun is  a banker approaching his 55th birthday. After a 30 year career as a banker, and seeing several people make their fortunes in real estate, he has decided to become a real estate investor.

His plan is to invest in underpriced property, with the objective of renovating the buildings and selling the individual units at a higher value than the amount at which he purchased the property.  Balogun is interested in understanding the risks and opportunities of this business and he comes to us for advice.

Some things to note:

  • Using this strategy, you purchase a building that needs fixing up for N2,750,000 and then you invest N500,000 in improvements (paint, landscaping, appliances, decorator items, and so on) and you also invest the amount of sweat equity that suits your skills and wallet. You now have one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood, and 2 years later you can sell this home for a net price of N4,000,000 after your transaction costs.






  • Be sure to buy a home in need of that special TLC in a great neighborhood. With most properties, the long-term appreciation is what drives your returns. Consider keeping homes you buy and improve as long-term investment properties.
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  • This strategy is clearly not for everyone interested in making money from real estate investments. It is not advisable if you’re unwilling or reluctant to live through redecorating, minor remodeling, or major construction;
  • You may not be experienced or comfortable enough with identifying undervalued property and improving it; so always make sure you get a professional opinion on each property .
  • You should either have the budget to hire a professional contractor to do the work, or you should have the free time or the home improvement skills needed to enhance the value of a home.
  • You also need a financial cushion to withstand a significant downturn in your local real estate market, as this investment can be very cost intensive.
  • Mange your risks as much as possible!!! Make sure you do deep due diligence on the property in order to ensure that you have good title to transfer to a third party, especially since it may not make financial sense to perfect your title if you are not going to hold the property for a long period.



The Legality of Restrictive Covenants

culled from Hg.org
Many who buy a home believe that they are able to whatever they feel is necessary to the house or land. If they want to alter the land and create a garden, install equipment or build additional structures, they feel they are able to do so after the property has been purchased. However, there are numerous contracts that prevent these actions.

If there is a restrictive covenant in effect in the agreement that was signed, the homeowner is not able to do just whatever he or she wants to the land or house. These documents are drafted with specific language in the deed papers or through additional files that specify certain actions for the deed. They have working of running with the land so that anyone that owns the property is affected by the terms.

The purpose of a restrictive covenant is to limit the ability to freely use the property by someone that owns it. These may be placed on deeds by municipalities, land developers and even homeowner’s associations when certain actions are not wanted in a neighborhood or community. It is possible for a private citizen to also impose these restrictions when entering into these contracts so that imposed limitations affect the new owner. The primary reason for these stipulations is to keep the location in order in regard to certain actions such as cleanliness and appearance. The other goal is to increase the property values as much as possible for the entire area.

Community Association

There is a percentage of homeowners that believe that community association has rules that only lower property values based on the regulations implemented. However, most of those included in these organizations are happy and at peace with ensuring the rules are followed. Restrictive covenants may be used as a design to maintain the character of developing land and communities. This may prevent residents from various alterations to the homes in regard to size, appearance and the trees and brush around them. Because being part of a community requires adherence to these regulations, each person must follow the rules. However, homeowners are able to change some of these when they are in good standing with the Housing association.

Due Diligence Before Purchase

There are a variety of sources where restrictions come from on what may be done to the property. This could be the developer when the property is a condo or some building still being constructed. The list of detailed restrictions is provided before the sale in most circumstances so the buyer is aware of these conditions before he or she moves into the home. The title committeemen document is another source of finding the limitations through a restrictive covenant when purchasing a house. The title company usually has these details noted for any limitations that apply to the land or structure that is purchased. A local county deed recorder may supply this information if a title insurance policy is not obtained when the property has been bought. Any applicable restrictive covenants are placed on the face of a property deed as a public record available to anyone. For any additional assistance, a real estate lawyer should be contacted.

Restrictive Covenant Examples

The terms of a restrictive covenant are usually detailed and obvious. This is usually for home bought within certain communities. A covenant affects how high, where and what manner of construction may be accomplished for certain portions of the property. Some require a permit for painting or for decorations. Pets and certain other stipulations such as running a home business may be restricted. Altering the landscape is often limited. Other exclusions may be through adding fences, multiple or large vehicles and materials such as window treatments or solar panels.

Violations and Legal Assistance to Restrictive Covenants

When a homeowner violates a restrictive covenant, the consequences may be as minor as a fine or as severe as suspension of rights on the property. It is imperative that these terms and clauses are fully understood before the homeowner finalizes the purchase of the house or land. To accomplish this, a real estate lawyer should be hired to analyze the wording and how it applies to the purchase. These legal professionals have the knowledge and understanding of how local and state restrictions for both the title and laws affect these terms. Restrictive covenants must be examined thoroughly by a real estate lawyer to ensure what the homeowner wants to do may be done so after he or she buys the property.